Wales’ terrible roads aren’t just an inconvenience – they’re lethal

Picture by Suzanne Gielis (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Ifan Morgan Jones

Yesterday I witnessed yet another car crash on the A487.

It was another reminder, if needed, that the poor state of Wales’ north-south roads is more than a matter of inconvenience – it’s a matter of life and death.

There have been 723 accidents on the A487 in 10 years, and 23 people have last their lives as a result.

I use this, one of the main trunk roads between north and south Wales, twice a week to travel from my home on the Ceredigion/Carmarthenshire border to Bangor in Gwynedd.

This journey has to be made by car – there is no railway. Attempting it by bus would take the better part of an entire day.

In the ten years I have been using the road I’ve witnessed several accidents and near-misses. By the time the flowers on the side of the road have wilted another pile of bouquets often appear somewhere else.

I’ll never forget arriving at the scene of an accident near Aberystwyth, and seeing the driver standing in a state of shock near the wreckage of his vehicle, his face slate-gray, looking out at the road with far-away eyes.

The police were already present so I drove on. I later found out that the driver had died. It still gives me chills thinking about it.

There’s no secret to why this road is so dangerous. Winding, narrow roads mean that those who use them have to take greater risks to pass large, slow vehicles.

The site of the upturned car I witnessed yesterday, below, is a prime example. Cars hurtle along at 65mph and then the road suddenly becomes so narrow that they can’t pass each other.

 

Picture: Google Maps

And before you tell me Wales is too mountainous for proper roads – take a visit to Switzerland, where motorways crisscross a country where the peaks are four times the height.

This is down to lack of investment – no more, no less.

Impassable

There was a joke in the 19th century that Wales was such a religious country because anyone who had travelled between north and south Wales already believed in eternity.

But the joke is now on us – at least then they had a network of rail links that held the country together!

The joke today is that one of the main roads between north and south Wales frequently floods in Machynlleth, making it impassable.

The joke today is that if there’s an accident between Machynlleth and Borth, you have to make a 50+ mile detour through rural Powys.

Our country is the only one I’ve been able to find, after extensive research on Google Maps, where it’s quicker to leave the country altogether if you want to get from one end to another.

Nepal comes closest – but it’s just about quicker to stick to the country’s mountainous roads than use India’s motorways.

I look with envious eyes at the scale of the SNP’s ambition in Scotland compared to Wales.

Since 2007 they have invested over £14 billion on roads and rail – including the £1.4 billion Queensferry Crossing. Projects opposed every step of the way by Westminster parties.

Scotland is a much larger country than Wales with much more challenging terrain. For £14 billion Wales north-south transportation problems could have been solved for decades.

However, the only debate in Wales’ corridors of power is whether we can cobble together the few billion required to make the trip to London a few minutes faster.

Investment in Wales’ north-south transport links is limited to the occasional bypass – concessions that often have to be dragged out of the Government by Plaid Cymru.

Mindset

The poor state of Wales’ transport links also has an economic cost. It’s impossible for many communities to thrive when travel between them is so difficult.

The UK’s over-centralised economy is due in no small part to its over-centralised transport network – all roads – and railways – lead to London.

Unfortunately, there exists a mindset that the only way for Wales to prosper is to strengthen transport links with England’s capital.

Take the tweet below by the Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Andrew Adonis:

This is a mindset with its roots in the colonial liberalism of the British Empire – that the peripheral countries could only prosper with better links to the core.

You could argue that such an attitude is well-meaning, but what it often meant in practice was that wealth is concentrated at the core while the periphery remains poor.

Wales has had excellent transport links with England since the latter half of the 19th century, but the prosperity promised by this ideology continues to elude us.

West Wales is the poorest area in western Europe despite having a direct line via road and rail to London.

The solution is to invest in several economic hubs across Wales rather than allowing a handful of quasi city-states to prosper while everywhere else stagnates.

Our priority should not be to knock five minutes off the journey from Bangor to Liverpool, or Cardiff to London, but to encourage the development of Wales’ internal economy by linking its towns and cities.

Continuing to throw money at the Cardiff-London axis at the expense of everywhere else will create a two-tier nation and further polarisation between the rich and poor. For those who aren’t lucky enough to benefit, it causes despair.

Despair leads to looking for scapegoats and to extreme political solutions.

Community

Unfortunately, while there is a strong economic and social case to be made for large-scale investment in Wales’ north-south transport links, politically it’s just not that easy.

The poor transport links across our midlands have created a sense that ‘North Wales’ and ‘South Wales’ are two different regions with their own sense of community.

Growing up in Gwynedd, I’ve often heard it said that Liverpool is the capital of north Wales. It’s Liverpool – or Manchester and Chester – where people go to do their shopping. Many had never been to Cardiff.

The divide between north and south may be an accident caused by topography and the industrial revolution but it’s one you suspect that Whitehall is in no hurry to do anything about.

After all, as long as the perception persists that the north and south of Wales are two different regions rather than a unified country a separate Welsh identity can be quite successfully contained.

I’m a utilitarian nationalist at heart. My nationalism is about fixing what doesn’t work in a country I feel has been long neglected by the UK Government.

Where I differ from British nationalists is that I’m not ready to see what’s best for the country I live in sacrificed in order to further unfairly concentrate wealth outside of it.

When £2,500 per head is spent on infrastructure in London compared to £100 in Wales, it may be good for overall UK GDP. But what is the point in improving overall GDP when the spoils are distributed so unequally that one in three children in Wales live in poverty?

The lack of investment in Wales’ transport links is a good example of the close alignment between Welsh nationalism and basic fairness.

Yes, it would mean investing an awful lot of money. But that does not outweigh the cost – to the economy and to people’s lives – of not doing so.

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61 Comments

  1. A drive from Oslo (or pretty much anywhere in southern Norway) to Kirkenes will take you through Sweden and Finland. I know, I’ve done it.
    Other than that, you’re right of course. There is, however, one benefit to the state of the roads. At least east-west. That is, the very low crime rate we experience here in Ceredigion. Criminal gangs have difficulty escaping before the police can catch up with them.

    • Hefyd – ceisiwch fynd o Konibodom Tadjikistan i Murghab! Eto, mae’r eithriadau hyn yn dangos gwirionedd y rheol, gan ystyried ffurf y dirwedd yn y ddau achos: nid yw’n bosibl tynnu llinell syth ar fap heb fynd trwy’r wlad arall / y gwledydd eraill. Yn achos Cymru, nid daearyddiaeth ond gwleidyddiaeth yw’r rhwystr.

    • But in that particular case, a straight line between Oslo and Kirkenes takes you through Sweden and Finland, so it’s understandable that that is the quickest route.. A straight line from Bangor to Caerdydd doesn’t touch English soil.

  2. On the same topic as Angharad Shaw….ever since the A55 we have had quite a few undesirables popping over for their crime fest. But the road/rail link between Caedrydd and Bangor is out of the dark ages. Gwarthus @llafurCymru

  3. Capitalist and Welshnash

    A comparison to Japan would be more apt, o ran tirwedd a hinsawdd (a hanes).

    Following WWII, Japan’s infrastructure was in shambles, with bridges and roads reduced to impassible rubble in places, and many would journey across their country by horse despite Japan having been one of the most technologically advanced nations in the world in the decades prior. After the war the United States invested in building Japan’s infrastructure and its entrepreneurial base to combat the influence of communism. Rather than munitions and weapons, which caused it to lose Vietnam and score a draw in Korea, this approached worked and it still shows today in Japan’s economic success. Wales needs a massive infrastructure investment program focused around Welsh entrepreneurs and Welsh business owners.

    • So more taxpayer subsidies for capitalism then? I find this grossly offensive. If there should be any kind of investment in infrastructure, it should be for the benefit of ordinary citizens, and not just the desires of a few parasites. Oh, and by the way, it’s spelled ‘programme’, not program, which would only be correct if you were an American

      • Capitalist and Welshnash

        I don’t care if you find it offensive. People need jobs so we must invest in the growth of our native businesses.

        Jones o Gymru potato crisps. A business, proudly Welsh and suppliers of great jobs. Not parasites. Our infrastructure must support our businesses. They support the aspirations of our people.

        • Sibrydionmawr

          Jobs so great that they pay a pittance no doubt, with the parasites who exploit stealing the difference between the wealth the workers create and what they are paid. And no reason why the workers couldn’t take over and run the factory themselves, thus deriving the fullest benefit possible from their labour.

          I have no desire to exchange an English capitalist bastard for a Welsh capitalist bastard! For me there is no difference.

      • Interestingly, “program” is the original spelling; “programme” was adopted in Britain in the 19th century from the French spelling. I guess people thought it looked sophisticated. The US did not make this change.

        • Sibrydionmawr

          Yes, American English has retained many of the older English spellings, as well as their own simplified and arguably more logical spellings of other words. Canada is a little more confusing in that they tend spell words from the French the same way as in British English, but use US English spellings for other words.

          • Well given your knowledge on the subject, why pick on his grammatical choice as if it were an error. It seemed you wanted to attack the man and not his argument. A cheap shot. Frankly, given that english is likely his second language then he is not obliged to conform to either version of the spelling.
            I speak for myself when I say that the Websters spelling is more predictable being phonetic, like perhaps ‘Capitalists & Welshnash’s’ first language.

    • Tame Frontiersman

      Oni fyddai hanes cyfraniad syniadau LS Deming i Siapan yn wers fwy gwerthfawr i Gymru?

      Mae Tsieina’ n gwario trilynau ar seilwaith yn Asia – “yi-dai-yi -lu”. Mae Arlwydd Trump wedi addo i wneud yr un peth yn yr UDA. O na byddai gan Gymru ffynhonellau mor ddwfn!

  4. I agree with the general point – that we do not have a transport structure that is self sustaining – we currently need to use England’s structure to ensure we can travel from North to South. However, two points

    1 – we need to think of better ways to fix this than to assume we need more/wider roads. We need to reconsider the amount of long distance travel needed – emphasise the local. We need to look at all other possible modes of transport, not just more roads.

    2 – this statement “Winding, narrow roads mean that those who use them have to take greater risks to pass large, slow vehicles.” is ridiculous. You never *have* to take a risk. You can decide to, because you think you have waited long enough, but the moment you put your time/speed above the risk of a serious accident it is *your* choice and the resulting “accident” is your fault. You cannot blame greater risk taking on anything external to the person. Wait. Yes, this means there will be a cost – delays, possible economic costs, people needing to start journeys earlier based on the assumption of a lower average speed, etc. All painful. But none of these are ever so bad that you can absolve yourself of responsibility if you decided to take a “greater risk” to ensure your speed is maintained.

    • People never *have* to take risks (except insofar as getting in a car and driving off is a risk in itself). However, human nature says they do, And it is often innocent people (the driver coming the other way) who pays the price.
      This leads me on to the fallacy of introducing speed limits on country roads that are slower than the average motorist would otherwise drive it. There are a good number of people who will exceed what they perceive to be a “stupid” speed limit, and will take risks to get past vehicles who are obeying the speed limit, knowing that country roads are highly unlikely to be policed for speed. In terms of safety, this is counterproductive. But when I have in the past complained (having witnessed two dangerous overtaking manoeuvres myself on such a road) the response came back “driver education”.

      • There are risks and there are unnecessary risks. My post was clearly about unnecessary ones i.e. overtaking, where it isn’t safe, because a driver is being held up. Once someone decides their time is worth breaking the consensus, that overtaking needs totally clear views, that the speed limit is X, etc. then they have made that decision, they have not been forced or persuaded into it. The fault is theirs, not the limit or the road.

        I think the response from the police is correct. The correct response to idiots deciding they know the correct speed to use a road better than the legally agreed limit isn’t to increase the limit to their preference simply because they ignore the law. That would be counterproductive. It is for people to accept the consensus or work to get the consensus changed, not just (usually arrogantly) assume they are a better driver than everyone else so of course this particular limit doesn’t apply to them. When the accidents happen and innocent people are hurt, the fault is squarely with the person who took an unnecessary risk. If you want faster speeds then work for it, through govt, etc., don’t just take it on yourself to go faster. Get the law changed first. Yes, the chances of you getting a change are small but this is how society functions – we make consensus based rules that will no doubt seem overly limiting for a lot of people.

  5. Tregaron 1@yahoo.co.uk

    It’s not the road that is dangerous!M!,,,,,!M!!! It’s the stupid drivers who do not respect other drivers, . As soon as they get behind the wheel, they become blinkered and don’t read what is ahead of them . There are speed limits on all roads for your safety, acknowledge them , abay them. Therefore arrive at your destination. Become an arrival and not a statistic.

    • There is little to be gained over a long journey in Wales by driving like the clappers. Keeping to an average 45-50 mph is still covering ground, and give far more margin for maintaining control as adverse conditions arise. It also puts far less stress on driver and vehicle, which has advantages in maintenance costs, fuel costs, tyre costs, driver stress and polluting emissions. Car crashes are never good, and sometimes road layouts don’t help, but by and large it is driver error, or just plain stupidity that causes these collisions – I won’t call them accidents, as most aren’t that, just a result of carelessness. The Highway Code does point out, as does any decent driving instruction, that one must drive with regard to the conditions.

  6. I agree with you that Wales’s situation is very strange and quite frankly frustrating, but are you suggesting that we should built a six lane motorway through Snowdonia?

    • I don’t know what is being suggested as a solution. But I would suggest a North-South railway would be far superior to a road.

      • I disagree that a railway connection North-South would be in any way sufficient to addressing the issue.

        Whilst railways are good for connecting one population centre with another, Cymru is largely rural.
        Why would I drive my car to the train station. Pay for parking, pay through the nose for a return ticket, and when I get to the station the other side I still have to get to my place of work which could be any distance, my car is at the first station so I need a taxi or bus or walk and now its starting to rain.

        Or seeing as I’m in my car in the morning anyway I can just drive to my place of work. Less journey time, less expense, more convenience.

        Perhaps we need to get lorries a separate road or lane and pensioners to use their bus passes.

        Of course pensioners wont use their bus passes if they have a car because bus shelters are designed to be uncomfortable, busses are incredibly noisy on the inside, they don’t come when you need them to, and don’t go where you need them to.

        I have a lot more to say against the redevelopment of the railway in west Cymru if you want to hear it.

        • What pessimistic nonsense this is, and I would love to hear more…

          • So Tegid, you’re going to dismiss my statement as ‘Nonsense’ without qualifying why. Just to bait me to say more so you can issue the next baseless retort.
            Surprise me with an explanation next time and I’ll get onto the my thoughts on rail redevelopment after I get back from work.

        • This:

          “Why would I drive my car to the train station. Pay for parking, pay through the nose for a return ticket, and when I get to the station the other side I still have to get to my place of work which could be any distance, my car is at the first station so I need a taxi or bus or walk and now its starting to rain.”

          is pessimistic whataboutery throughout. Conversly, my local rail station happens to have free parking right next to it, a return ticket is reasonable (many routes still are today, despite ridicilous prices on others), and my place of work could have no parking facilities and could be right next to the station. Why would I drive to work? And I had to laugh at the “now its starting to rain”. Some sort of coat, perhaps?

          Looking at the bigger picture – if you want Wales to thrive independently as I do, then it is essential to have a much better internal transport network, and that includes improving our rail network & reopening old lines.

          • Ok Tegid, point taken. Pessimism is evidently prevalent in my point.

            I was thinking about large employers like the NHS. In Llanelli, Carmarthen, Aberystwyth & Bangor hospitals are all a long way from the train stations.
            Same goes for patients as well as employees.
            Your place of work may be a short walk from the station and an anorak may suffice, but it stands to reason that most peoples places of work is not near the station.
            Most stations are situated near historical industrial areas so as to carry freight. Industries that are no longer there.

            I think that the proposition of reinstating the railways here in west wales to complete a north south link might be a symbolic success but wont achieve less congestion on the roads.

            The proposal is for reinstating passenger trains not freight. Freight vehicles, from lorries to agri’ vehicles slow roads down and cause congestion.
            If the railroads must be reinstated I believe the emphasis should be on moving freight, with smaller vans distributing goods locally from stations.

            If busses cant provide adequate passenger service already then I fail to see how a train can improve the situation. Busses can and do access small villages and can stop where you need them to if the driver see’s fit. Maybe spend the money on better and more frequent busses.

            Many bridges were removed following the Beeching cuts to allow taller transportation to pass. It would add even more costs to remedy this problem.

            Compulsory purchase is really not fair. Many will face this eventuality.

            Much of the railway lines are now wooded wildlife habitat. Trains wont tolerate leaves.
            You might be one of those people who value human convenience above wildlife needs. I hope not.

            I think that the survival of our language & culture is in part due to our relative isolation.
            Better north-south links may help. East-west ones dont.

            More of us work and shop from home. With further automation in service and office jobs, many more of us wont have work to commute to.

            I believe our roads are fine as they are with little further improvement.
            We are on the verge of automation regarding driving.
            I think the endless millions estimated to reinstate a railway would be better spent on driverless technology.

    • I don’t think it would need to be six lane, or even that there would actually be room for six lanes, but there is a delicate issue here. Are we going to continue to allow our economy to be crippled because some people from Liverpool and Birmingham enjoy gawping at our scenery? Conversely, are we going to devalue an iconic landscape that we ourselves enjoy, in order that the people of Cardiff can commune more conveniently with the people of Bangor?
      Maybe the answer would be to build a network of super-fast steam railways. No-one would possibly object to that, would they?

  7. The lack of fast transport in many parts of Wales maintains the natural character of Wales.
    Before you rush into what we would gain, think about what we would use.
    If you need to get to far flung places quickly and frequently, rural Wales might not be a good place for you to live.

  8. Having lived in North wales for 10 years & occasionally making the trip to Cardiff by car, I concur with the experiences of Ifan Morgan Jones. It is a dangerous & frightening experience. So much so that I now rarely make such a journey & when I have to I use the motorway route on the East side of Wales in England. As an Englishman l appreciate the comment that North Wales & South Wales are two different countries, North Wales being more cultured in humanity where it’s farming communities fight an ongoing battle to survive & exist .

    The majority of the 3 million people living in Wales today shall continue to survive until the Westminster yoke is finally & totally removed financially,economically and politically with fairness. They in Parliament shall continue to make Wales destitute & totally dependant on the Westminster establishment even under the looming prospect of Brexit & the end of subsidies paid by the EU into the Welsh Government coffers..
    Wales appears to have been ruled & governed by sado masochists by the English Establishment for centuries ! This has to change if Wales expects a real future.
    I quote-
    “When £2,500 per head is spent on infrastructure in London compared to £100 in Wales, it may be good for overall UK GDP. But what is the point in improving overall GDP when the spoils are distributed so unequally that one in three children in Wales live in poverty?”

  9. Sounds too much like good common sense nation-building. Let’s build it and if its a road then raise the speed limit to 100mph – imagine Llanelli to Bangor in under two hours, with slips off to Camarthen, Lampeter, Aber, Machynlleth, Dolgellau and Caernarfon. All cars will be either electric or hybrids soon anyway, with power provided by renewables, so could well become one of the greenest ways to travel.

    As for the pretty countryside and rural environment – maybe the train is an alternative option, but paint it green with pretty flowers on and do some land reclamation on areas currently littered with ugly hippy shacks, to offset any collateral damage elsewhere.

  10. As a frequent traveller to Cardiff from North Wales for work, I empathise completely with the author of this article. Over the last few months the A55 has been completely closed due to accidents almost daily at some point – never mind for any repair work that is required. The surrounding roads then immediately become blocked as well. In relation to travelling to Cardiff I use the train, as it is no quicker to drive. There is only a direct train every two hours, otherwise you have to change at Crewe and get on the ‘shuttle’ between Crewe and Chester, prior to joining a train to take you along the coast. Last Friday (as they always are in the afternoon) the carriages were overcrowded, the toilets smelt and are barely acceptable compared to Virgin or Great Western railway train facilities. The trolley never appeared. It is completely unacceptable to ask people to sit on a warm train for nearly four hours, (five to Caergybi) without warning, without access to fresh water. The Wifi, Arriva has installed has removed a lot of the luggage rack storage space so cases and bags were scattered everywhere. What is the alternative – allow meetings about issues that affect the whole of Wales to continue to be held without participants from the North? Use of technology? We become faces and voices on a screen? Llandrindod is often used an alternative but again the journey is not an easy drive, especially as we move into the winter months. My support would always be to invest in a better North/South railway system, its the minimum Wales’ deserves.

  11. Brighty…..Way to go at missing the point the article is making! Jeeeesh!
    Wales needs better transport links between North and South. Absolutely spot on.

    • Silly reply. The article makes a lot of points. I decided to respond to some of them. I’m capable of handling, and the author of writing, more than point at a time.

  12. Re-working the landscape to serve the interests of nationalism. How 19th Century.

  13. It could be argued that is the ‘tirlun’ that has been the saviour of the Welsh Language,especially in North Wales. If Wales was as flat as the Netherlands there might be no language left. I would concur, the A487 is a beast of a road but these are roads built to withstand 1950’s traffic and not the Mansel Davies trucks eulogised in song. Let’s get the Aberystwyth – Carmarthen Railway up and running and forget Bow-Street Station, yet another stop that will delay the journey from Birmingham to Aberystwyth and just a vanity project from Welsh Labour to stop overcrowding in Aber.

  14. Dafydd Thomas

    The comparison with Norway is not a good one, after all from Oslo to the north of Norway is the same distance as from Oslo to Rome. In Cymru we are barely entering three figures in mileage. It’s absolutely incredible that we can’t have a decent road, infrastructure is an alien word in the assembly. The road from Oslo to the north is better than we have, much much longer of course and I know it’s safer, having driven it when living in Norway.

  15. I agree with everything you say and any further detail would be superfluous. Some excellent advances were achieved when John Morris was Secretary of State for Wales, many years ago:: for example the dual carriageway from Raglan to Abergavenny and the by-pass around Talgarth; but very little has been achieved north of that. Everyone complains about the dangers of the A44 which is part of the north/south route but very little seems to be done about that. Is it laziness, bureacracy/inefficiency, lack of funds? Despite 40 years of complaining I have received no explanation and achieved nothing useful: not even a speed limit or double white lines to protect drivers passing the junction I care most about, where visibility to the right for traffic joining the A44 from a side road is only a few feet. Residents off the side road have learned by experience never to venture onto the A44 via the junction. As for strangers, God help them!

  16. Agree with a lot of this – but you know what the response will be… panacea lower speed limits! They are always being dumbed down as its cheap and creates jobs! Sod the frustration or desire to actually get from Cardiff to Holyhead before they turn the clocks back! I know this road like the back of my hand and use all the horsepower to safely and quickly nip past those HGV’s limited to 40 or those others limited by their sightseeing desires or big white bodywork! The UTTER sheer absurdity of what they did in Dolgellau in making one lane what was THE only bit of dual carriageway between Merthyr and the Menai Bridge was shambolic. This tinkering caused deaths and again frustrated those trying to slowly get past Mansel Davies at full throttle in their 80bhp micro hatchbacks. .https://www.facebook.com/A470-SOS-Dolgellau-1390186294553304/?fref=ts

    The accident in question here seems to be at a junction so may have been due to poor observation rather than poor roads but we do need more investment into our roads and their design but all we get is constant tinkering with speed limits and crowing about how many they have caught on that uninhabited straight stretch at Llandinam making us all ‘safer’ 🙁

  17. Richard Perkins

    There is a Welsh public sector and a few spin offs but to talk of a Welsh economy at the moment is to take the concept beyond breaking point. A Welsh Economy is largely something yet to happen. It could only begin to happen with an adequate transport infrastructure which could only happen in spite of commercial calculations.

    Of course the ideal would be a road/ rail link through Wales itself helping create an economy as well as forging a nation but given the vagaries of the planning system, the expense of building through mountains and the lack of political will and the inevitable political opposition this is a long way off .It would be interesting to have studies of possible routes and cost nonetheless.

    The trouble with the route through England is not that it is going through England per se but that it is simply a series of low priority county trunk roads. Could I suggest treating this road as a major North to South Wales route and pushing for its improvement might be a realistic way forward ?

    • Those of us in the middle deserve decent communications, too. It’s not just about Cardiff and Bangor. The economies of small towns like Llanidloes, Llandrindod and Brecon are shrivelling.

  18. Tame Frontiersman

    Smart, diver-less, battery or fuel cell powered vehicles are probably the answer to safe, environmentally-friendly* high speed travel on narrow, winding Welsh roads. (* Problem of PM10 particulates generated by rubber on tarmac needs some work and there’s much scope to develop improved surfaces to reduce maintenance cost from wear by traffic and weather).

    I think it very important to integrate economic development and infrastructure in a small country like Wales. Build the infrastructure first on the “build and they will come” principle and there may be a range of undesired consequences: rural areas become dorms, you created a thieves’ highway, locals spend their cash elsewhere. The announcement that tolls will be scrapped on the Severn bridges saw an immediate rise in house prices in Monmouthshire. The announcement in July of the beginning of works on Halton Curve to improve the rail connections between North Wales and Merseyside was particularly warmly welcomed -in Liverpool- a multi-million pound boost to the city’s economy it is said.

    Consider how poor the connections are between and the Country’s 4th conurbation – Wrexham and the rest of Wales and how much easier it is to get to Chester, Manchester and Liverpool. March saw the transfer of the rail branch line between Gobowen and Oswestry from Network Rail to the Cambrian Heritage Railway (CHR). Co-operation between the CHR and TfW and the relaying of just 8 miles of track from the CHRs southern terminus at Pant to the Cambrian Railway could mean that trains could run from Aberystwyth through Newtown, Welshpool, Oswestry and onto Wrexham. A more ambitious project (stretches of the original 25 miles of track bed have been sold off and built over) linking the Heart of Wales Line at Builth to a turn-back at Caersws would then allow trains to run from Swansea to Wrexham over Heart of Wales, Cambrian Railway and CHR tracks.

    Justifying the cost of this proposal and the Traws Cymru West Coast line needs putting together an integrated development proposal on the lines of the Cardiff and Swansea City deals ,but along a ribbon of railway rather than around a conurbation hub.

    We are on the brink of new developments in integrated transport which could be supportive. Consider a network of micro businesses along these railways each producing components for (say) a 240V Arc Fault Detection Device (will save lives of thousands and 10s of millions in property damage). The components are flown to and from mixed passenger goods trains by drones. The completed units are then returned to trains. Near the coast drones carry the packaged components to waiting ships. Alternatively the components complete their journey to Europe and Asia by train. No need to build expensive port facilities; no needs for armadas of white vans bringing pollution and congestion.

    Think of businesses based on repurposing trains to meet the need of people and bikes and goods on rural lines. Think of new designs for containers which facilitate integration with drones or surface transporter pods and sorting and repackaging. Think of CHP power plants along the line to produce hydrogen for the trains’ fuel cells or electricity for drone, vehicle and train batteries and heat for homes. Think of the huge sums saved not having to build overhead power lines. Think of the line side as a managed reserve for nature. Think of colleges to train local people in the necessary craft and high tech skills. Think of stations not as expensive train stops but as multipurpose community buildings.

    Talented young Welsh people will be drawn back form the cities to rural Wales by new digital and physical connectivity, a vibrant culture and beautiful environment. An end to commuting!

    Think of the huge cost savings and improved safety over and above line side signalling and the wireless ERTMS of using pilot drones flying ahead of trains looking out for people or hazards ahead. Think of the lives that would have been saved on Welsh railways already this year

    Think of flying through the air when speed is needed, road vehicles for door to door convenience, bikes and walking for health and trains not just as means of getting from A –B but for people who want to live in the moment, a place for meetings and entertainment and great views.

    Wales is a land of valleys like Switzerland. A land of valleys is a land designed for trains because people live in ribbons along the valley floor. But Wales has an advantage over Switzerland in not being landlocked and therefore greater opportunities for integrated drone-train-ship transport networks.

    Colonialists see geography, culture and people as problems. Wales needs to see its geography, culture and people as opportunities. Wales needs to stop being a consumer of other peoples’ culture and industry or it will cease to exist.

    Geography, Culture and Technology- should become the new watch words for Wales. Then the red dragon will truly lead the way!

  19. Dreams aside a decent road from north to South Wales will never happen because of the geography.There is no demand for mass traffic across the sparsely populated area.

    Such a road would destroy what remains of the Welsh language by opening up rural Wales to English migration.

    I agree with Ifan that the drive can be frustrating. However at a steady 50mph you never have to overtake anyone and have time to take in the splendour of the Welsh countryside.

    Another option is learn to fly. Swansea is only a 45 minutes hop away from Caernarfon and a cheap old two seater Cessna can be bought for around £10k. If you want to sell later at that level on entry you will get your money back.

    In my decade at Radio Wales in the 1980’s I ran an old Cherokee based at Cardiff and the trip to Mona would take a pleasant hour just gazing down at the wonderful landscape.

    Cost me about the same to run as a decent car and I made a profit when I sold it in 1989,

  20. I can’t believe so many would be opposed to this on the grounds of the environment and aesthetics – we didn’t mess up the South Wales valleys and exploit it – the English did and left us with the holes in the ground and no money to remedy it – the only thing wrong with what happened is that we didn’t do it for ourselves and ensure that we had the funds and will to remedy the damage and do it with a bit more ethics. Also those who think the best solution for culture and language is isolation. The best solution to all of our problems and issues is a thriving economy, that has a lot more direct links to the world that aren’t focussed solely on one market and source of investment immediately to the East.

    We need to use what assets we have as best as we can. We need to move the centre of gravity of our economy further west. We have to build on the academic talent that is there and join it up. There is only so much we can do with our sea ports like Milford Haven, Fishguard and Holyhead, sea trade is declining maybe or at best stagnating, but we have to maximise what we can do with them. The Basque country is extremely affluent, becuase it is a region that has a trading ethos – it trades directly and acts as a conduit for spanish trade to places with like South America. The Dutch are always succesful, because of trading links to the world – our only meaningful trading links to the world are through England.

    We need to build a North South link to create a critical mass of talent in the west that can function collectively. Ideas only turn into reality when people work together and discuss things frequently face-to-face, build personal and professional relationships – over 90% of our businesses are small businesses, but most of the wealth in our economy comes from the few larger businesses. The idea that we will become a succesful economy based on home-based micro businesses is a myth.

    We don’t have the infrastructure funds to build a road North to South, but if we have a vision then we could start the long journey to achieve it bit by bit. I personally would build it from close to the end of the M4 in the West upto somewhere to the A55, close to Bangor. It can, if needs be avoid Snowdonia, but it has to pass through somewhere centrally that can be developed and grown as an economic and academic hub in-between – not necessarily Aber – maybe more central.

    I think roads are the best way to go, but there are plenty of different options and goods are perhaps best carried by train? – cars are getting greener and worries about pollution from tyre rubber is not something I would lose much sleep over. Speed is important – wasting a day on the roads is wasting time, money and big deterrant to actually doing it – rapid movement of people and goods is critical. If I was allowed to drive at 200 mph and it was safe to do so, then I would, without hesitation.

  21. Trailerboy…If I may quote you.. “we didn’t mess up the South Wales valleys and exploit it – the English did and left us with the holes in the ground and no money to remedy it”.

    The industrial revolution was not unique to South Wales. The same happened in North East Wales and across the Midlands and North of England.

    • Plenty of people have a right be feel aggrieved – the ones outside of Wales can fight their own corner and many of the descendants of those who did well are still living on the proceeds of the wealth from those days. It’s tax revenues also helped to forge some of the assets in the UK treasury, while we have always had to go cap in hand to London to try to devise a new economy, with what we inherited.

      It doesn’t change the facts about what happened in South Wales (or North East Wales), just because the ones who did it weren’t discriminatory and were happy to abuse their own in England as well.

  22. Im sure the 1st photo is of the A5 at Llyn Ogwen . Many collisions here over the years . Luckily not involving me . Maybe I’m lucky , after all i do nearly 50,000 Miles a year mainly on these types of roads, or Maybe I just use my common sense and drive to the given road type and conditions . notice the use of the word “collision ” not “Accident”. As for improving the roads? well , they’ve improved in places for the larger vehicles and for the people who cant drive . I dont want to see a Motorway through the Ogwen valley just get on with it and drive properly.

  23. With that many deaths, the cost of all the inquiries would just about pay for a new road.

    Just had a terrifying trip from Dolgellau to Machynlleth on bws T2 (some of you bourgeois Marxists wouldn’t know about that service . . .) going over the pass past Cader Idris: bus was late, and driver trying to catch up time – i was imagining how it would feel if the bus shot over the rail into the gorge below.

    Road transport is devolved to our Cynulliad, and so it is on labor’s shoulders we should place the blame for the lack of investment in infrastructure.

    The EU – remember that – had a program that financed transport links between countries and regions of the union – interreg. Had the Marxists – all staunch internationalists – the wit, they had a good chance of getting some of that money. But they know best, don’t they. I saw the fruits of this program at work connecting small rural railways between Austria and Hungari.

    Until we can reform or destroy welsh labor and plaid cymru, we are sunk. Neither party is competent. The chance of me an outsider reforming the labor party or plaid cymru are nil, not much higher chance of destroying them.

    I am forced to the conclusion that a new party is the answer: a party of the left, untainted by the corruption and complacency of Marxist Leninism, and with a strong sense of social justice the middle class and wealthy backers of plaid cymru could never countenance.

    • What are you on about? I doubt that you’d find a single Marxist Leninist in the Welsh Labour Party of today, and those who went on to join Plaid Cymru after the dissolution of ‘communism’ in the early 90s should be described as ex Marxists, and most of those were Eurocommunists, so hardly in thrall to Lenin.

  24. Robert Williams

    An important article that has brought a – large! – mixed bag of responses, many of which by galloping off in all directions on a variety of hobby horses exemplify the difficulty of holding a rational, focussed discussion leading to operable conclusions on any issue affecting Wales.
    I personally have no technical knowledge that would advance this discussion, but I do think there is one salient point: Wales’s present pattern of relatively good communications east-west, facilitating easy movement of goods and people to and from England, along with terrible communications north-south, nurturing the idea of separate nations, is a disaster from the point of view of nation-building. It’s a souce of enormous regret that devolution has so far done little to rectify this situation, although one very good effect it has had is that many more young people who leave north, mid and west Wales do at least move to Cardiff rather than London/Birmingham etc. as used to be the case. This does at least do something to raise consciousness of our capital city outside the south-east. That said, it is surely obvious that among the highest priorities of any Welsh government or party truly committed to building a coherent and prosperous nation we should find radical improvement of transport links between north and south, one would hope by both road and rail.

    • I think there is a case to be made that we insist that the seat of government is moved to somewhere in Mid Wales, like Machynlleth, which would then alter the political focus of the country, a kind of Welsh Brasilia, but perhaps without the huge city. Following that I think we’d find that north-south road communications would improve dramatically, as well as things like broadband.

      • Spot on Sibrydionmawr.
        I can see that Machynlleth would be a good choice to locate the assembly because, as you said, so much else including improved transport links would naturally fall into place.
        Cynically i’m starting to think that Mach would then benefit from having expensive art installations and posh restaurants and all else AM’s and their entourage would require including the all important North-South transport links.

        • Maybe even a new airport! Why would anyone want to destroy a lovely little Welsh town? As a few others have remarked there is no need for new roads. Just slow down and enjoy the wonderful landscape. I drive everywhere at 50mph and never have to overtake anyone. Better still avoid a lifestyle that requires long distance driving.

          • I cant disagree with your points.
            Regarding relocating the assembly to Machynlleth – It is for its central location nationally and its historic link to parliament . Destroy is too strong a word. Change – yes, for better or worse would depend on the skill full handling.

            I read your bit about owning a plane, well done you. For the rest of us though, we’ll have to wait for automated flying taxis probably.
            Besides, judging by what I can glean form you on here I’d guess that you are in a fairly high economic class. Maybe not in comparison to your peers but certainly compared to me. If so, good for you.
            Which brings me to my next point, making changes in ones lifestyle to avoid travel is only likely to occur if one has enough money or willing to live on a lot less. We can make changes to our lifestyle if & when we can afford to do so.

            Driving at 50mph would be fine by me. I’m more of a 45mph kind of guy but I find myself all too often behind the impassable goods wagon or pensioner or people who are slowing down to enjoy the wonderful landscape 😉

  25. Just returned from a visit to North East Wales from Ceredigion, and I have now found a route that is so quiet and peaceful-and A/B roads all the way- that I’m not going to publicise it in case others copy me! Its a journey that always take about the same time whatever vehicle I’m in. During the same ‘trip’ I also drove along the A55 from Chester to Bangor. All I can say is ‘be careful what you wish for’-I’ll say no more!

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