Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Imaginary trains...
Now and then, if you look very quickly on Newport Station, you can sometimes see the platform indicators flagging up an Ebbw Vale bound train. Blink and you might miss it - this may be the closest many rail passengers will come to seeing a ghost train. Despite regularly oft-repeated promises from the Labour in Wales government in Cardiff and more locally elected Labour in Newport representatives, there is no sign any time soon of a permanent rail connection between Ebbw Vale and Newport.

The Ebbw railway line reopened in 2008 carrying a years worth of anticipated passengers in a few months. From the start the new rail service failed to connect to Newport and the rest of the south east - a variety of lame excuses have been offered which fail to conceal that fact that the Welsh Government has been dragging its feet. Somewhat ironically periodic upgrades to track and signals in and around the Cardiff area meant that services do actually occasionally start and terminate at Newport.

The failure to connect the Ebbw vale line to Newport means that commuters living in the communities in the Ebbw valley are unable to travel directly to Newport by train and have little choice but to use their cars. They are denied the opportunity of catching connecting trains to Bristol, Cheltenham, and beyond as well as travelling slightly more rapidly to Cardiff in the morning and back again in the evening.

This was either simply a bad short-sighted decision that resulted in commuters having no choice but to choose to drive to work or was a deliberate decision. This lack of an easily accessible alternative helps to feed congestion on the M4. If we are lucky at some as yet undetermined future date the Ebbw vale link may actually begin to benefit those commuters who daily travel east to and from work.

Nothing to see here, move along...
What seems to be missing here in Wales is any real element of reopening old (or building new) railways as has happened in Scotland. In Wales in the last 17 years there have been 2 successful railway re-openings carried out by Network Rail at the request of the National Assembly; the Vale of Glamorgan Railway Line (re-opened on Friday 10th June 2005) and the Ebbw Valley Railway Line (partially re-opened on Wednesday 6th February 2008). These were largely administrative rather than legislative projects, and save for the existence of the National Assembly they would have lingered on somewhere on Network Rails’ priority list.

The National Assembly, has been (with a few exceptions) been pretty muted when it comes to making the case for rail. This has certainly not been the case in Scotland, where bills to reopen old railways have been vigorously debated, scrutinised, amended and passed by the Scottish Parliament. If we are serious about integrated public transport then we are going to have to get serious about how we are going to develop and redevelop our under invested public transport infrastructure.

The Transport (Wales) Act, in February 2006, gave the National Assembly the powers but not the political will to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system. Future development plans will be complicated, as back in March 2017, the Westminster Conservative government decided, whether by accident, design or as a result of a general indifference to Wales (and Welsh interests) not to devolve control of that portion of Network Rail to the Wales but to retain it in London.

The largely non UK owned rail companies have continued to ramp up rail fares and have quietly attempting to reduce rail services (they have been thwarted in the later endeavour by some well organised local pressure groups in the case of Severn Tunnel and Chepstow in South East Gwent). All of these things have been done with the tacit co-operation of various Westminster and Welsh Governments and the Department for Transport (in London) certainly for 2 out of the 3 of these august bodies our transport issues and our infrastructure will never be a priority.

It would be nice if the government in Cardiff woke from its self induced slumbers and took the long term view, and actually put its money where its mouth is and work to redevelop our rail services, to boost the development of rail freight and to co-ordinate rail and bus services across the whole of Wales. To do this effectively Wales needs to have full control of its transport policy and transport budget devolved as quickly as possible and the Wales franchise should be run on a not for profit basis.

If we could create a not-for-distributable-profit organisation to run our railways; then profits would be available to invest in rail services. This could mean more frequent services in the South Wales valleys, more frequent journeys to West Wales and on the Cambrian line, as well as additional services between the north and south of Wales.

This could also mean more investment in new rolling stock to help keep pace with increasing passenger demand.  This is sadly not going to happen anytime soon, which is a real pity as a delivery model that is better suited to the needs of the people in Wales rather than the foreign state-owned railway shareholders dividend can be developed, would be a sensible and popular decision.  

Locally Abergavenny, Caldicot, Chepstow and Severn Tunnel railway stations should be real local transport hubs, with fully integrated local bus services and better rial services. Better facilities for passengers are needed, as is the provision of adequate safe secure parking facilities, which are urgently required.

Plaid in Monmouthshire has previously called for feasibility studies into the development of a Parkway Station at Little Mill and the possibilities of re-opening the railway line from Little Mill to Usk. The development of a new railway station to the west of the town of Usk would significantly benefit local commuters, rail travellers and also reduce road congestion. 

The re-opening of Pontrilas Railway station (in south Herefordshire) for passenger traffic and timber shipments would also help. As would a realistically scoped feasibility study into developing regional rail freight services, removing heavy Lorries from local roads.

Such developments would provide a regular rail service to local people and reduce the ever-increasing traffic burden from already overcrowded roads. Local priorities should be the completion of the final stage of the rail-link from Ebbw Vale to Newport and railway stations at Caerleon (which has been in the UDP since 1986), and it should not be a case of a station at Llanwern or Magor but both as they would all help to reduce road congestion and bring benefits to local commuters and rail passengers.

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