22/07/2013

Brakes on the Cambrian Line hourly service

The Welsh Government’s Transport Minister, Edwina Hart, has disappointed everyone pushing for an hourly train service on the Cambrian Line by declaring that evidence of demand must first be provided.

Politicians in Central Wales had always understood from the previous Minister that the provision of an hourly service was a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ and was only being held up by the need for infrastructure improvements.

In a written statement the new Minister said last week:
“I have asked the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Railway Liaison Committee to co-ordinate work with the other rail interest groups to investigate the demand for rail services.”

Everyone involved sees this as a considerable setback.

In reporting this, it would be wrong not to also give the Minister’s explanation:
In addition to capital budgets being increasingly constrained following UK Government budget decisions, revenue budgets are under considerable pressure. The Welsh Government prioritised a series of rail service enhancements in 2011 on the basis of the revenue budgets being available. A consequence of the challenging economic climate and in-year revenue reductions from the UK Government is that I must be realistic about our ability to provide the funding for new or additional services.

There’s no doubt that Westminster cuts are hitting both the Welsh Government and (consequently) County Councils hard and this looks set to continue and increase for the foreseeable future. Ceredigion has been given the task of saving £12.5 million in the next three years [Update 2/10/13: now looking like £20 million]. Nevertheless, the statement prioritises improvements to various lines and stations in North, South and East Wales (and, to be fair, Aberystwyth station), so it’s a question of the Cambrian Line service not receiving that same priority.

Some of the thinking revealed in the Minister's statement is also concerning. The statement says:
“Initially for the Cambrian Line and the Heart of Wales Line, my tourism sector panel will provide a view on the feasibility of proposals for summer tourist trains on a trial basis”.

This misses the point that commuters, students and business visitors are key users of the service all year round. 

7 comments:

  1. 75% of the train journeys I do, it makes no sense to start from Aberystwyth. I drive to either Stafford, Crewe, Shrewsbury, Cosford, Hereford, Abergavenney, Newport, Swansea or Carmarthen depending on the destination. I know a number of people who do the same. Hourly service would not eliminate this behaviour on my part, but would reduce it. [ Actually an train that gets to London earlier would make the biggest difference ]

    The practical upshot is that demand is hidden until the service is provided. Good as your blog is, Alun, I doubt Edwina reads it.

    This is one of those situatations where Wales@Home [RIP] would have been a good outlet for an article setting out why the thinking of the department my not be in the best interests of Mid-Wales.

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  2. Thanks Clive. You're obviously an excellent example of someone who uses train services for business reasons. The service needs to be more aware of people like you.

    I've now taken to using the train, instead of the bus, when I travel to Cardiff from Aberystwyth. It may seem counter-intuitive to head towards Shrewsbury to go to Cardiff but, although it takes at least half an hour longer, I find it's time well spent. You can work and answer e-mails on a train and I arrive feeling fresher. If they could arrange a through-train, instead of having to change at Shrewsbury with often a long wait, this service would become even more attractive. We need better connections from central Wales to our capital.

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  3. Thanks for this, Alun. If we look at the other statement Edwina Hart made on 10 July, the vast majority of her transport spending plan is on road improvements. This includes the massive expense of an unnecessary new motorway south of Newport, because the problems of the existing M4 could be solved much more cheaply by other means. Her priorities are seriously flawed. I might have a few negative things to say about Ieuan Wyn Jones, but he was definitely the best transport minister Wales has had.

    On other rail projects, it's worth noting that there is no mention of the junction improvement necessary to allow direct trains between Ebbw Vale and Newport, nor the extension of the Ebbw Vale line from the current terminus at Ebbw Vale Parkway into the town. Presumably these are still on some back burner. It would make a lot of sense to to these at the same time as electrification of the Valleys lines.

    Also the previous commitment to re-double the line between Wrecsam and Chester (Saltney) which would allow an express Holyhead-Cardiff service to run via Wrecsam instead of Crewe has put back for "review".

    It goes without saying that other proposed improvements, like re-opening the line to Llangefni in Môn, or re-opening the section from Aberdar to Hirwaun are now not even on the back burner.

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  4. Thanks. Absolutely agree about the utterly misguided 'M4 Relief Road'.

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  5. At least the London to Swansea line is still going and soon to be electrified. Really handy for assisting London councils to send up their misfits, rejects and problem families to check out their new homes in Wales

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  6. They have all the infrastruture for a the hourly service havent they?
    Ok maybe if they cannot justify an hourly service see what happens with a hour and a half service? Or increased services at certain time.
    It really seams that in the eyes of some wales ends at swansea and bangor and if you look at the road and rail system who is to blame them. There could be a loss at first but eventally more people will move to it as it is soo much more convinient that the road.
    Really what passes for an a road in wales would be a b road in england and it really feels to be the same for Wales.

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  7. To be fair, quite a lot of time has passed since this post. We've had a survey in which 6,500 people backed an hourly service (see post of 4/10/13 launching the survey) and, as I write, we're optimistic that there'll be a positive announcement from the MInister shortly.

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