One road link, one rail link

Although it won't please Huw Lewis much (it isn't the A465) I was happy to see the announcement that the Porthmadog bypass was finally given the go ahead last week.

The news is here, and the details of what is proposed are here.

If you click the picture it will open at a readable size. The final route follows the red dashed route and the white route. The decision on the alternatives was taken back in 2004, but the scheme was proposed way back in 1993. It has taken all of 16 years to be given the go ahead ... and it will be a couple of years before it's complete.

The cost is £50m, which works out at just over £15m a mile. Roads certainly don't come cheap ... a motorway costs at least £30m a mile.

But in my opinion this scheme is justified on two grounds: because it takes through traffic off town centre streets, which is much safer, and because relieving congestion enables the road to act as an artery for people and goods to move around Wales more easily. There is both a strategic and local benefit.


But just a couple of days ago, this story came out in the Western Mail about reopening rail lines.

     Watchdog backs call for new railway lines

As any regular readers might have guessed by now, this is one of my hobbyhorses, so my ears pricked up. It was a bit of a false alarm as it related to lines in England only. Not that I have anything against the English doing it ... in fact I'm all in favour. I downloaded the report from the ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies) and found that they were basically proposing the same sort of things that we in Wales have been doing (Vale of Glamorgan and Ebbw Vale) and the Scots too (Alloa, Airdrie-Bathgate, Waverley). It's very clearly an idea whose time has come.

I could give you at least a dozen ideas for improving the rail network in Wales, but I'd like to highlight just one, because it just so happens to be a couple of miles away from the Porthmadog bypass.

It's best to show things visually on maps. Click the images to open the full-sized versions if you want to see the detail.


The existing rail lines are in black. The Vale of Conwy line runs from the main North Coast line at Llandudno Junction to Blaenau Ffestiniog. The line used to extend to Bala (in yellow) but that service was stopped in the Beeching era. However until 1998 the section to Trawsfynydd remained open to serve the now closed nuclear power station. Those tracks are still in place.


The line passes within a few miles of the Cambrian Line from Pwllheli to Aberdyfi, and then to Shrewsbury. My plan (which I'm sure can't be original, though I haven't seen it anywhere else) would be to reinstate only the section of line shown in red, and to join it to the Cambrian Line with a new section of track shown in blue. The reinstated section is 5 miles long and the new section 6 miles long. The terrain is tricky, but I think what I've shown is the most practical route. Comments and suggestions welcome.


In terms of cost, I can't be precise, but reinstating the Ebbw Vale line was a £30m project for 18 miles of track, although it was in operation for freight traffic. The reinstatement of 5 miles of track can't cost more than £12m.

The new section in blue will be more expensive because there is no existing formation for the track. But it's hard to imagine it costing more than £6-7m per mile. So both parts of this rail link would cost less than the £50m the Porthmadog bypass is going to cost.

But all expenditure has got to be justified. I'm not going to pretend that there is going to be very much immediate local benefit. Llan Ffestiniog is more a village than a town. On its own, that doesn't justify the link. The benefit is that this short stretch of new line would link what are currently separate north and mid Wales lines, bringing an economic and social benfit to a much wider area.

As such it stands on its own merit, but of course it also forms a part of a strategic plan to create or reinstate rail links between north and south Wales.


It might also be worth noting that plans have been on the table for some time to upgrade the Conwy Valley line so that it can take slate waste from around Blaenau Ffestiniog to be used as aggregate for building works. New EU environmental directives on sourcing aggregate mean that there is now a viable market for the 370m tonnes that is already there, and the 6m tonnes of waste that are produced each year.

The improvements to the existing line would cost £19m, but Gwynedd Council estimate it would bring an annual benefit of £43m to the local economy.

     Campaign to improve railway link

However it strikes me that there must be some synergy in putting this well-established proposal together with the link I have outlined, so as to create a through route that will link north and mid Wales by rail for the first time in fifty years.

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Anonymous said...

Good news about the by-pass. But I hope the bridge over the Glaslyn will complement the spectacular local scenery and not be some bog-standard British concrete junk. Good links into Porthmadog and Tremadog but why isn't Pen-morfa by-passed; a nasty little bit of road.

Anonymous said...

It shouldn't be either or - the A465 us a killer road in certain places, and what are the last bits designated to be changed- yep the killer stretches.
That piece of road should be such a high priority.
The bye pass will be great for me as I drive N to S so regularly.

JohnR said...

It would be great to see trains back on the old line. Photos are here:

Anonymous said...

Good blog. These are the kind of decisions WAG (and Plaid have to make). When Plaid AMs like Leanne say that money for health should be ring-fenced, then they're effectively saying there will be no new expenditure on Welsh infrastructure - i.e. rail, roads, but also in our human infrastructure - culture, education, language etc.

The sums for linking up Wales by rail are not huge. The health budget is some 35% of WAG's annual budget - some £6bn I'd imagine. Taking £100m pa for five years from this budget would radically change Wales's rail infrastructure and that would be there for ever then.

It's time Plaid started thinking strategically and just got on with the job. Where has all that Objective 1 money gone - serveral miles of rail could have been built with that. And as you've noted before Syniadau, the WAG civil service miscalculated the footfall on the new Ebbw Vale line by several thousand.

C'mon Ieuan, be brave. Make savings in health to create a decent infrastructure for Wales.

Anonymous said...

I suggest "we" save money by scrapping nuclear weapons, two aircraft carriers, foreign wars and the monarchy. Then we can have decent transport and health, etc. Oh, sorry, that's independence!

Anonymous said...

Agree with Anon 14.24 ... but in the meantime Plaid need to show it work with the now and present not postpone taking difficult decisions.

People switch off when we talk of nuclear weapons, people want to retain an armed force (even in an independent Wales) and there's a good case that the monarchy brings more to the UK in terms of brandind and tourism than is paid to uphold it.

Sorry, Anon, but this sounds like an unthinking, pavlovian stock answer from many in Plaid. Must try harder if we want to bring over the thousands of Labour voters who thought that a vote for the UKIP or staying at home was a better option than voting Plaid at the Euro elections.

Anonymous said...

Agree with doing stuff now, always have. But get real. People vote UKIP, BNP and New Labour because they are British nationalists.

Retaining armed forces, like Ireland, is on a totally different scale than the nuclear weapons fetish these British have. They will pay anything to retain vestiges of empire. An independent Wales is definitely not that.

And hereditary monarchy does matter. That's why there's no UK constitution and the tyranny and elitism of Parliamentary Democracy (as opposed to the popular democracy of a republic).

Anonymous said...

Nope sorry, give US back a rail link in Caernarfon which, until removed was a thriving town.

I remember Y Maes full of tourists in the summer, now, very few indeed. For a county town, and one that was once in the running for capital of Wales, Caernarfon is in a shameful state. Only council offices and a few shops cling on, but for how much longer?

With petrol fast approaching £6 per gallon an integrated transport policy is needed NOW.

Just for the record, the old line ran just behind my garden wall, I'd love to see it back, in fact if I had the money I'd PAY to see it back, and be able to wave Yr Draig Goch at passing English tourists like I used to as a young boy!! Hahaha

And, just for the record, an without such a transport policy and a robust self sufficient local and national economy, HOW can we ask, let alone afford for independence from England which I want as much as any other Cymro but until that day arrives,Get real!

Anonymous said...

I stand to correct myself and what I wrote above, apparently, according to Wikipedia, Cymru has a GDP of £45.6bn in 2008 (£15,237 per head of population). I can only assume that most of that is based from South Wales (no love lost between US in the gogledd and "THEM" in the South).

With the above figures, we actually could support ourselves, but would the WAG give us the support we deserve or do they prefer to remain part of the "gravy train" and keep in to themselves.

Maybe we should ask for an independent Gogledd Cymru after all, from my many visits down south most of them don't speak their own true language anyway and have you even noticed how in the 80's when a Japanese or some other company wanted to invest in Wales, it was ALWAYS in the south. Why?

I believe North Wales was effectively sidelined because of our political and nationalist views.

I'll get off my soapbox now ;-)

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