Frustration for rail passengers as opening of new park and ride scheme is delayed
Twm Owen, local democracy reporter
A new park and ride facility serving two railway stations, is standing empty with no date for when it will be opened.
The £7.2 million scheme to create a vast new 140 space car park at Pontypool and New Inn railway station to turn it into a park and ride facility to enable commuters to easily access Cardiff every day is practically completed – but delays in “signing off” the work mean it is standing empty behind security fencing.
Torfaen Borough Council, which is responsible for the scheme, which includes a new footbridge so passengers can cross from the new car park to access the existing “island platform” – which is still in use on the Marches Line that connects South Wales and Manchester – is currently subject to safety testing.
Workmen have already left the site but the new slip roads they’ve created from the A4042 trunk road are blocked off by traffic cones and the new footbridge is standing idle behind secured fencing.
When the footbridge was installed in March this year it was still expected the facilities would be open this summer however that failed to materialise.
Now councillors in Monmouthshire have been told it is likely to be another six months before the 129-space car park – which will have an additional 11 accessible parking bays and 11 electric charging points, a bus bay and cycle storage – and the footbridge will be in use.
Torfaen council has only said it will be brought into service “as soon as practicably possible”.
Christian Scmidt, passenger transport planning manager for Monmouthshire County Council was asked at its public services scrutiny committee if he could provide any update on the station, which is mostly being funded by the Cardiff Capital Region and Welsh Government.
Mr Scmidt said: “My understanding is there are issues with the signing off of some work at Pontypool and New Inn, the new bridge and car park, I believe there were some late changes made that now need effectively signing off and the place can’t open until that has been done.”
Usk independent councillor Meirion Howells, who had asked for the update, then asked: “So almost ready to open?”
Transport manager Mr Scmidt then suggested the station is unlikely to open before May 2024. He said: “I believe it might be some more months, it might be six months effectively the key work has been done.”
He said Torfaen Borough Council would have to provide further details as it is responsible for the project, which when it was proposed in 2019, was hailed as one of the first South Wales Metro Plus projects.
The station is intended to open up employment opportunities in Cardiff and Newport to people without cars in Torfaen as well as meaning drivers from Cwmbran, Pontypool and parts of Monmouthshire can avoid adding to the congested routes into both cities.
At present drivers have to access the station via a narrow road, from New Inn, and there are only some 20 parking spaces in its current car park. Cycle storage will also be provided to encourage cycling and the work also involves new seating and shelters.
Angela McMillan, who lives just eight minutes drive away from the station, regularly travels into work in Cardiff and said she has been disappointed by the delays in opening the station which appears ready to use.
She said: “I feel it’s really frustrating particularly because as I drive past I can see the footbridge and brand new car park, with all the parking spaces in it, so I hope it can be open pretty soon as having to wait until May next year is really frustrating.”
A man walking his dog, along the station platform on Monday afternoon, said he hadn’t seen anyone working at the new car park in some two months and the yard used by contractors was padlocked.
In October Torfaen council leader Anthony Hunt said the project was “largely complete” and the council was working with Network Rail and the Office of Rail and Road, a UK Government department responsible for the regulation of the railways, “to make the facilities fully operational as soon as possible”.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said it has been “engaging” with Torfaen Borough Council, as it does with all applicants, but said the council hasn’t yet requested authorisation for the new station.
A spokesman said: “For all projects that require authorisation, the applicant is required to make a formal request for authorisation to ORR with a submission of a technical file. As of December 12, 2023 ORR has not received a request for authorisation for Pontypool and New Inn railway station.”
A spokesman for Torfaen Borough Council said: “The decision to open the station is overseen by the Office for Rail Regulation (ORR). Network Rail is currently conducting safety assessments on behalf of the ORR and we are working closely with both organisations to bring the £7.2 million facilities safely into service as soon as practicably possible.”
The original £3.5 million costs were supposed to be met from external sources but in February 2021 Torfaen Borough Council said it would have to stump up £1.5 million to ensure it could be delivered.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.