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 Driver's view of the line

Photo:- Robert Davies:-"Of Time and The Railway"

Film now showing as part of Teulu/Family Exhibition. On until 23 June 2024 at Aberystwyth Arts Centre.


This page updated 30th March 2024

SARPA is the local rail users group for the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth line running from the English border through Montgomeryshire to the coast of North Ceredigion and ending up in the increasingly important University (and Welsh Government administration ) town of Aberystwyth. We exist to preserve and promote the line so that there is a more sustainable transport system for future generations. SARPA is one of the more active rail user groups in Wales and we are continually campaigning on various issues from train times and frequency to station maintenance. We welcome comments from anybody about the rail service in Mid Wales.

Transport for Wales rail services were brought under Welsh Government control from February 2021. The takeover from KeolisAmey has taken place with day-to-day services now run by a publicly-owned company. This follows significant falls in passenger numbers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

KeolisAmey will continue to be involved in operations, particularly in the South Wales region.

Former British Railways Eastern Region manager, the late Gerard Fiennes pointed out very correctly that "the railway is judged by the comfort, speed, convenience, safety, punctuality and economy of its services".

With its single line of way and an fairly intensive service, the Cambrian is quite a challenge for operators and a pitfall for those who are innocent of what they are letting themselves in for! After some time in the doldrums, there are signs that TfW are at last getting a grip on matters Cambrian. It is encouraging that reliability has improved and this is a key factor which will motivate people back to the railway after the hiatus of the Covid pandemic.

Nevertheless, a theme which is repeated at various stakeholder meetings is that of overcrowding and lack of capacity. Indeed, it has even been suggested that there is not much point in publicising the merits of the route if there is no space on trains for extra passengers. TfW clearly still has some way to go, though there are signs that the rolling stock problems which have plagued the operator throughout Wales for some time are at last being solved, albeit slowly.

As a group we remain somewhat unhappy that the new Class 197 units proposed for this line have less seats than the vehicles they will replace. We are not confident that they will answer in the longer term, given that an enhanced service which is promulgated to go full hourly will encourage more people to use the train, by virtue of the improved frequency. Twenty years ago, the provision of trains with just two cars was becoming unacceptable due to increased frequency of overcrowding. It was the cause of much dissatisfaction with the then operator, Arriva Trains Wales. TfW needs to learn from this and put in place the capacity which is needed for future growth. A belated response to very crowded trains will only damage their reputation.

Meanwhile Network Rail have put in much effort to upgrade the route. This investment is well overdue and we should not forget that the Cambrian Lines were earmarked for complete shutdown just over fifty years ago, as part of a secret closure programme being considered by Edward Heath's government. The work has meant much disruption to services, which hopefully will decrease but the Cambrian has not had this much spent on it since the 1920s.


The new year brings new opportunities and challenges. A very important development for the line is that Tornado will test its ERTMS systems between Shrewsbury and Newtown soon. No steam engines have run on Cambrian metals since 2010, with the arrival of the new signalling system and until now no-one was keen to set up ERTMS on a steam locomotive. However, with an ERTMS system coming to the East Coast Mainline (London - Edinburgh via York), it is expected that a number of different locomotives will be adapted to be able to run under the system. Although Tornado (RA9) is too heavy to go further than Newtown, it's possible that we could see steam on the Cambrian once again, for example if a Black 5 was adapted to run under ERTMS. The move towards ERTMS elsewhere on the network should also help to solve the sporadic availablility of the Class 97s .

In terms of modern traction, delays continue regarding the full hourly service and the new trains. Amongst other factors, there have been further delays in supply of the class 197 units: a number of the new units have developed flats and alterations are being made to some platforms to accommodate the new trains, which are higher than the present ones.

Meanwhile, we are pleased to see that reliability on the Cambrian has improved recently and that the current Class 158 units are providing a good and comfortable service with a toilet in each carriage. Finally, a new footbridge is being installed at Newtown station to provide a more accessible means of reaching platform 2.

Jeff Smith
Cadeirydd SARPA/SARPA Chair
March 2024

You can see what we said about the railway industry in the past by clicking on this link to our archive page. We have archived all the newsletters back to November 2001.

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Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Rail Passengers Association (SARPA)
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