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.