£4m plan to extend heritage railway submitted to national park planners
Gareth Williams, local democracy reporter
A £4m plan to extend a heritage railway into the heart of a Gwynedd town has been submitted to national park planners.
With the Bala Lake Railway currently starting and ending at Pen-y-Bont, which is a 15 minute walk from the town centre, backers have long harboured plans of extending the line and opening a more central terminus.
Built on a section of the former Ruabon to Barmouth railway, the narrow gauge former slate quarry locomotives take passengers on a four mile journey between Llanuwchllyn, along the picturesque shore of Llyn Tegid, and the outskirts of Bala.
But the Snowdonia National Park Authority has now received a planning application to build an extra three-quarters of a mile (1.2km) of new track, leading trains to a brand new station near the town’s high street.
According to the railway its hoped that such a move will double passenger numbers and avoid a 15 minute walk from the town centre, describing the current access arrangements as “very poor” and having “precluded the attraction from playing a fuller part in the local economy.”
“Currently the railway carries 29,000 passengers a year on a train service running on 173 days a year and it is envisaged that this number will increase by to 60,000 visitors a year,” note the supporting documents.
“The economic impact assessment forecasts that the value of this development locally would be near £1.4m and 20 FTE one year jobs plus 18 other jobs supported during the building phase and an increase of £420,000 of local expenditure per annum through a projected net increase of around 29,000 visitors to the area – the concomitant increase in GVA would be equivalent to an estimated increase of four permanent jobs in the area.”
The proposed new station would house a ticket office and café, together with meeting facilities and a function room.
‘Effective no-man’s land’
Describing the current Pen-y-Bont terminus as “an effective no-man’s land,” possessing no amenities other than a shelter, it was also noted that visitors currently experience difficulties parking near the station.
Accessed from Heol Aran, the new town centre station some parking spaces although most visitors would be encouraged to use existing town centre provision.
With the railway having to cross the River Dee to reach the town, the current proposal is to use the existing road bridge with a tramway section, thus not requiring a new structure to be built.
“Bringing the railway into the town and running single service days from there will undoubtedly increase the potential for visits to the railway to be combined with visiting Bala,” the supporting documents go on to note.
But acknowledging that the bulk of the estimated £4m cost is yet to be found, a fundraising campaign is underway as station bosses also seek grant funding.
Its expected the Snowdonia National Park’s planning department will consider the application over the coming months.
For more details visit: https://www.balalakerailwaytrust.org.uk/appeal.html
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