Cross-Wales railway campaign building up a head of steam
Adrian Kendon looks at the campaign to open a key public transport route across Wales…
Although Wales has 7% of the railways in the UK, less than 1% is spent on their maintenance and improvement by Network Rail.
Meanwhile, the go-ahead given to HS2 (£56b) and the building of London’s Crossrail (£18b) means that huge sums are spent in England while tiny amounts are spent in Wales.
The reopening of the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth train line would provide a huge boost to existing industries in Wales.
This part of Wales is one of the poorest in western Europe. According to Ceredigion County Council, 37% of households here are living in poverty.
The 250,000 residents of Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion would gain enormously from improved connectivity between the towns within the region.
Add to this the 50,000 students of the universities, colleges and schools who would also be able to use the line to get to and from home.
This development is also particularly relevant in the light of the suspension of the T1 Bus Service between Aberystwyth and Cardiff.
The rail line would also boost the tourist industry (currently worth over £5 billion per year to the Welsh economy) as well as attract new businesses to an area.
The situation today
Residents of Ceredigion and Carmarthen are at the moment obliged to own and use cars for personal transport since public transport is intermittent and does not serve many communities.
This puts a huge burden on the winding roads of the area, making them dangerous and slow and meaning that the local authorities have huge costs involved in maintaining and improving them.
Over the last five years, the counties have spent over £850m on this work – more than the cost of rebuilding the railway.
Following a public information enquiry to the Dyfed/Powys Police our campaign has discovered that between 2011 and 2015 there were 1,249 accidents on the roads between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen (including 100 sadly involving serious injury or death).
Working out the cost of these to the public purse we were astonished to find that over £10 million per year was spent coping with these accidents, injuries and deaths.
We would not claim that rebuilding the railway would eliminate road accidents.
But it is worth noting that Lothian and Borders Police have estimated that the 2015 reopening of the Scottish Borders Railway (which has been a model for the Traws Link Cymru campaign) saved seven lives a year on the A7 road between Carlisle and Edinburgh.
In addition, of course, by reducing the numbers of cars on the roads, a railway line between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth would provide a safer and environmentally better way to travel.
It would not only save lives and money but help to improve Wales’ contribution to the prevention of global warming.
The state of play
The good news for our campaign to reopen the Carmarthen to Aberystwyth Railway is that a Full Feasibility Study, commissioned by the Welsh Government in the budget for 2017 -18, has been confirmed in a letter received from Ken Skates AM, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure.
This follows a very positive Scoping Study (a pre-feasibility study to discover the viability of the proposal) published in 2015 and a recently published WelTAG (Welsh Transport Planning and Appraisal Guidance) report.
Our campaign has gained support from all the political parties in Wales. The reopening of the railway has appeared in the manifestos of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, the Welsh Green party, and Plaid Cymru.
It also and has the support of Labour Government and UKIP members at the Welsh Assembly.
Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion County Councils have both passed resolutions supporting the reopening.
And 46 Community and Town Councils, One Voice Wales, the Hywel Dda Health Board, the universities of Bangor, Aberystwyth, and Trinity St David at Lampeter, Carmarthen and Swansea have all written in support.