Wednesday, 9 January 2008

The Dragon and the Leprechaun - Restoring the Rail Links

Campaign aims to restore coastal railway

Jan 9 2008 by Rhodri Clark, Western Mail
Campaign aims to restore Wales’ coastal railway

THEY may be in adjoining counties, but the train ride from Carmarthen to Aberystwythis a marathon that takes more than six hours.
And if you’re crazy enough to take the train from Barmouth to Bangor – 60 miles apart in the same county – you’ll need five hours for the journey via England’s Shrewsbury and Chester. And Wales is not alone.

Residents of western Ireland can sympathise because their rail network focuses on east-west journeys from and to Dublin.
But Ireland has now started rebuilding its “western corridor” railway.
Towns near its western seaboard such as Limerick and Galway will be reconnected in a £50m, 52-mile scheme. Campaigners say reopening another 46 miles would link Sligo to Westport, Galway and Limerick at a total £250m cost for the entire route.

Yesterday there were calls for Wales to examine this Irish solution and to consider restoring two missing railways, from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth and Porthmadog to Bangor. The Irish tracks were retained after the last trains in 1976, but the Welsh tracks were torn up after the last train from Caernarfon to Bangor in 1972. Bridges have also vanished and roads or buildings cover the route in places.
A Welsh reconnection would therefore cost more than the Irish scheme but Gareth Butler, a long-term campaigner for the western link, said costs could be cut with new tram-train technology.

“Rebuilding the old system would perhaps be too complicated and not suit today’s purposes,” said Mr Butler, a road-safety education adviser in Aberystwyth.
“There are trams that can go on railways and roads. They could go around the obstacles where development has occurred on the old rail route.”
He said a railway connecting main western towns could reduce traffic and accidents on rural roads, statistically the most dangerous.

Kirsty Williams, Liberal Democrat transport spokeswoman at the Assembly, said, “Undoubtedly it would be worthwhile the Welsh Assembly Government looking at what Ireland is proposing to do and seeing if there are any lessons for economic development here.
“We need the economy to thrive in all parts of Wales. We’ve restored the Ebbw Vale line and developed links to the Vale of Glamorgan. There’s always the opportunity to undo the damage that was done by Beeching.”
Richard Beeching’s report on reshaping British Railways resulted in many line closures in the 1960s.
Mrs Williams said people without cars on Wales’ western side could suffer isolation.
“It can be difficult to access hospital services and educational opportunities because of lack of transport. We should be looking at ways we can improve communications in that part of Wales.”

Prof Stuart Cole, of the University of Glamorgan, said restoring the tracks to normal rail standards could cost £500m and the service would need operating subsidy because of the low population.
“I don’t see the WAG or the Department for Transport paying for it. The European Commission might pay part of the cost.
“There’s a whole string of potential grants for redevelopment of peripheral areas.” Prof Cole said Ireland’s growth imbalance was mirrored here.
“The economic development is really in the south-east and around Swansea and Wrexham. There’s not much further west, apart from pockets like Newtown and Aberystwyth.”

Restoring the Bangor to Caernarfon railway could be an obvious starting point. Only a few miles of track were needed to link two major towns, and more of the old route was intact than further south. He said improving TrawsCambria bus services was the most realistic solution for the Carmarthen-Bangor corridor.
Even with both missing railways restored the rail journey from Swansea to Bangor could be slower than the service via Shrewsbury, especially if the latter was accelerated after track improvements, he added.


Anonymous said...

Bus services do not provide the same quality and efficiency as a rail service. I agree with you (finally) that the railways between Carmarthen, Aberystwyth and Bangor should be restored, providing a link that will help reunite a fractured nation.

The cost will be expensive, but utilising modern technologies such as tilting-trains to negotiate the difficult terrain will provide a world class rail network.

In addition, there should be some serious consideration being given to a rail link between south Wales and Ireland.

alanindyfed said...

Good phrase....reuniting a fractured nation, and links with Ireland, so much in evidence in the 5th to 8th Centuries, will benefit both nations.
It is necessary for Celtic unity and social and economic intercourse to be restored.

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

Restoring the old railway from Aber to Carmarthen? Well, it's a glorious ride and is a nice thought, but I foresee three wee snags:

1) The Gwili railway - on the old trackbed north of Carmarthen

2) The station in Lampeter - now the Co-op car park

3) The approach to Aberystwyth round the front of Pen Dinas, across the Rheidol and into the main station - now heavily built over at all parts and totally destroyed. Without massive upheaval and disruption costing many times the £500 million estimate you put forward, that couldn't be remedied. Unfortunately, due to the steepness of the hill below Penparcau, I can't think where an alternative route would run unless it could become a rack railway.

Shame that idiot Beeching closed it as it would be a great run through Ceredigion's beautiful inland scenery (which is part of the logic of the Gwili railway). Incidentally the Carmarthen-Aber line did not run along the coast, although it had branches to Cardigan and Aberaeron. It went via Pontrhydfendigaid.

Perhaps a more practical way forward would be to investigate the old Mid-Wales line from Llanfair-ym-Muallt to Moat Lane Junction. I think, with the exception of a short stretch in Rhayader and possibly the last couple of miles from Llanidloes, the track bed is still there, and in any case the country is much more forgiving. Fed into the Central Wales at Builth, and the Cambrian mainline, you could go from Cardiff to Swansea, Swansea to Porthmadog, Porthmadog onto to the Welsh Highland to Caernarfon, and then on to Bangor through the restored rail link (which should, I quite agree, never have been shut in the first place and screams to be put back). It would be rather a long trek, but it could be done!

Sorry for such a long post. Hope that you find it useful or at least interesting!!

alanindyfed said...

Thanks, interesting.
I'll pass it on to Ieuan Wyn....

Geraint said...

I agree with restoring the line, especially as I suffer the logjam into Aberystwyth every morning - that before the Assembly commuters have started to add to the throng!

Yes, there are obstacles to the old track-bed, but why follow the old route to the letter? The main problem I see, is Ceredigion's short-term head in the sand attitude that locked up the last 3 miles into Aberystwyth. My only solution to that would be to consider tunnelling from Llanfarian to Llanbadarn, or under Pen Dinas.
Either way, something needs to be done, the growth of traffic over here has been crazy

Anonymous said...

No need to tunnel or have rack rail. Why not just terminate below Pen Dinas. An express link bus could run between the two stations for those going futher and a normal bus for those wanting Aberystwyth town.
My ideal would be one of those raised monorails but the cost may be even more.

E Carlisle said...

Looking at Google satellite imaging, it would theoretically be possible to create a new diversion off the old Carmarthen Line and round the east of Aberystwyth to connect with the line into Aberystwyth further out of town. It would not mean having to pass through any housing, but would mean building some deep cuttings or new tunnels! Whatever the solution, major infrastructure work would be necessary, but it's a line that definitely should be reinstated.