Nelson station shunted aside

Another rail post ... you wait ages then two come along at once!

There was a story in the South Wales Echo today about Caerffili Council granting planning permission for a housing development in Nelson on disused railway land alongside the line from Ystrad Mynach to the large open-cast coal mine at Ffos y Frân.

     Homes move sidelines hope of railway link

Reading this story, the decision making process seems to have descended into some sort of farce. Apparently the councillors responsible disagreed with the decision, but then voted it through when it was re-presented. One of the councillors apparently could take no part in the vote because she was involved in trying to safeguard the site as a park-and-ride station in the new Local Development Plan.

The news is particularly bizarre when set against the evidence given by Ieuan Wyn Jones last week about reopening rail routes. He said that he wanted to do that whenever it was possible, but only had limited resources, and so had to prioritize them. The two current priorities are to reopen the line between Llangefni and Amlwch on Ynys Môn, and the line between Aberdare and Hirwaun. That's very positive news. Thanks go to Dafydd Trystan for drawing attention to it on his blog, he obviously knows his way around Senedd Committees better than I do.

I'd have thought that opening this line to passengers would be every bit as important, or at least a close third. The line is already operational for coal (and would also be used for waste if the proposed incinerator is built) so it wouldn't require very much work to upgrade it to passenger standards. As well as at Nelson, there could be new stations at Trelewis and Bedlinog ... and as a result people would have a quick and easy journey into Cardiff, thus extending employment opportunities.


Network Rail is not really at fault here. Apparently they offered to sell the land to Caerffili Council for the relatively small sum of £35,000, but they declined. So they seem to have sold it to a housing developer instead. From the point of view of housing, Wales needs more houses and the best place to build them is on brownfield sites.

But planning is all about co-ordinating different needs. Housing can be built on many sites, but the station obviously needs to be on the line. So something seems to have gone very wrong in this case. The transport section of the current Unitary Development Plan is here, and it clearly states (4.45 T10(7), p78) and shows that land at Nelson will be safeguarded for a new station.


I don't know what is best in this case. Perhaps it is possible to reverse the decision, though Caerffili doesn't seem to want to. Their spokesman seemed more concerned to say that the decision was made legally. That might be true, although it seems very unlikely to me, since the UDP is in force until 2011.

On the other hand, perhaps there is another site nearby that would be just as good, or even better, as a new park-and-ride station for Nelson. But if there is, nobody seems to be saying so.

So action needs to be taken urgently. If this is the only suitable site for a park-and-ride in Nelson we need to reverse the decision if it can be reversed, or buy the developer off if it can't. Obviously that will cost money, but better that than not having a station at all, and better to do it now rather than before any construction work starts. However if there is another suitable location, it needs to be identified and safeguarded from development.

Caerffili are a Plaid-led council. It would be hugely embarrassing for us to get this wrong. Therefore the council needs to make a clear statement about what it intends to do.

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Anonymous said...

Surely, the concept of 'Park & Ride' is rather silly, as it merely moves the traffic from elsewhere. It does not stop people using their cars to commute or travel, although it may lessen the distance travelled by car. Ideally, any council which is investing in public transport should prioritise the spend on 'PlusBus' schemes to feed into railway stations rather than building car parks. The case for the re-opening of the Hirwaun - Aberdare line to passenger traffic was that a connecting bus service to the trains at Aberdare is already in place and a resounding success. It has enabled people to conduct their journey wholly by public transport and re-opening the line makes this even more efficient. We already have 'Park&Ride' facilities at some stations, but all that does is encourage people to drive the car down closer to Cardiff and continue their journey by train. Surely it is better to open up the rail links, but in doing so integrate busses and cycle routes to the new stations, not building car parks.

There is another issue with car parks, in that they have to be maintained, and that has to be paid for by charging users to park there, at a premium price to stop it filling with shoppers/non-train users. For the same price of the parking fee, the rail ticket price could be augmented to include bus travel to and from the railway station. It is not embarrassing for Plaid to encourage and develop public transport integration as this is more important than building car parks, but it is up to Plaid to secure the opening of new links and new stations with PlusBus and provide easier non-car access to the trains.

I suspect that the reason why Network Rail offered to sell the land to the council at such a low price was because they know that station car parks don't make money, and that it is not commercially viable to lease the management of the car park to the train operating company. Arriva Trains Wales should concentrate on running the railway not subsidising car parks, and if they are to make any 'feeder' subsidy, it should be for public transport.

MH said...

I'm not sure I agree with your analysis. Building a car park does not PRECLUDE providing better bus services and cycle routes. It's not either/or ... it's both/and.

Of course I won't disagree with you that it would be better to do the whole journey by public transport, or to walk or cycle to the station, than to drive part of the way. But for many people that's just not practical. For others it's not desirable.

Choice 1: Walk to bus stop. Wait at bus stop (allowing more time because bus times are less reliable). Bus journey, with stops, to station. Total time 25 min ... remainder of journey.

Choice 2: Jump in car and drive to station. Total time 5 min ... remainder of journey.

The huge success of the re-opened Ebbw Vale line was its park-and-ride facilities. Indeed park-and-ride makes all the difference in determining passenger numbers because it puts so many more people within range of the station. That makes a station with park-and-ride more viable than one without, so that it is more likely to get the go ahead.

Whether this line is opened for passengers or not is still in the balance. We should surely do everything possible to tip the balance in favour.

Anonymous said...

The additional cost of maintaining a new car park at Nelson, will make it less likely for the re-opening of the link. Yes, the Ebbw Vale Park&Ride is of course a great success, however, that connection (currently to Cardiff only) is a much longer and more difficult commute by car and the catchments area is from nearby towns not already served by rail, hence the 'over the valley by car', then hop on the Ebbw Vale train. Ebbw Vale parkway is also 2 miles from town, and the car park there does actually preclude the extension to the town, as well as compromised the feeder bus service. The very existence of Park&Ride also compromises the case for the Aberbeeg to Abertillery extension.

Nelson, of couse, is spitting distance from Quakers Yard, Abercynon and Ystrad Mynach, already with existing railway stations. It would be drastic to encourage people to motor down the A470, then swing into Nelson to park. That would be taking existing train passengers off the railway to drive part way. That's daft.

You have a point about the bus/rail transfer, but please consider that the only reason why bus times are currently unreliable is because they are not currently integrated. The beauty of the Hirwaun to Aberdare pilot was that the busses were integrated into the rail timetable and guaranteed as a quick and reliable connection. Indeed it was one of the positive points that was used to promote the re-opening of the mineral line to passenger traffic. RCT council has always had free car parking next to Cwmbach station, which used to be a hop down the Aberdare by-pass from Rhigos and Hirwaun. Less so now because of the RailBus, and when the line it extended, completely obsolete unless down from Llwydcoed.

Even a large car park of 30 spaces can only accommodate the equivalent of one bus load of passengers. Once a car park space is occupied it's dead for the day, cannot be used by someone else, and only has one fee (if any) collectable per day. A bus, on the other hand, can connect with the trains however many trains you run, collecting money along the way, and run all day. It also enables the railway to 'incentivise' the service by offering Saturday Shoppa/disabled/youngperson discounts off-peak, which you cannot do with cars. This makes capacity utilisation of the trains better.

Surely the Nelson link/station should open, but it does not depend on a car park.

We need to exploit Oyster card technology and integrate the busses with the trains, and this would be a major leap forward. New car parks distract from this, and it's a drain on money that could be spent on public transport. We don't need to copy Milton Keynes or Oxford for Welsh transport solutions. let's look at what they do in Rotterdam, Malmo, or Brussels. They don't build car parks to optimise rail, they integrate all public transport together, then the car parking becomes obsolete. Locally, a Park&Ride will actually make traffic problems worse both on the magic roundabout at Abercynon and also in Nelson itself, although it will avail free parking off the council for Nelson. Rail busses of course can also be fitted, with traffic light changers and priority routing can be established to the railway station. These can also be safe routes to school for kids, which cars are not, or should not be.

There are already 30 parking spaces 2 miles away on the Nelson Road at Ystrad Mynach railway station.

Anonymous said...

Although I know many people have called for it I'm not sure reopening this line is really a goer.

The number of people who would use the service has to be questionable given the proximity of the Rhymney Valley and Taff Vale lines. With the RV line running close to capacity direct services would be impossible and passengers would have to change trains at Ystrad Mynach. Why would anyone drive to a P&R facility then catch a train to connect with another train?. Surely they are far more likely to drive to a P&R facility with a direct service. Having said that, if it was availabe for £35,000 the council were pretty stupid not to buy the land.

MH said...

No 1. The cost of mantaining a car park will be less than the cost of maintaining a mile of road. It's peanuts in the overall scheme of things. I wouldn't call 30 places large either.

No 2. In almost the opposite way to No 1, you seem to think that the stations will only be for park-and-ride passengers. The three stations I mentioned would put people within easy walking distance of trains that many would currently have to drive of take a bus to. Appeal to both groups. Give people as many options as possible.

And that, going back to no 1's point, is exactly the justification for the extention to Hirwaun. If the existing, admittedly good, bus link were adequate, why extend the service on the line? Surely it's being extended to put more people within walking (or cycling) distance of a station since, by definition, everyone else is getting to Aberdare station by car or bus. Travelling a few miles further will be no extra inconvenience for them; and travelling a few miles less would probably only save a few minutes.

Anonymous said...

MH.....To answer your point about the Hirwaun extension, the success of the RailBus service has proved that there are passengers who now want it as a railway. Always a good thing to justify a railway re-open. If Tirfounder, had been a Park&Ride it would have competed with the RailBus and railway extension. Obviously, I'd love to have seen the old Tirfounder left as rejuvenated green space, but far better to have affordable houses on it, than a car park taking people away from a future railway extension, which it could've been if your Nelson argument holds up. Not true that everyone else is driving to Aberdare. There are many people in Hirwaun who do not have cars and the RailBus has enabled them to find/keep work lower down the valley, in particular for part time work, or get to work when the car of the house is used elsewhere. Also, there have been people who used to drive down to Cardiff regular, many have now abandoned their cars completely. The hassle of a 'split' journey, parking the car, and then catching a train is actually more difficult, especially if you want to stop off for a pint.

Cibwr said...

As a matter of planning principle rail beds should be protected, ancillary land for stations and park and ride schemes maybe less so. But its important that we leave open the options for future public transport. When I lived in the West Midlands I could travel throughout the West Midlands county on a travel card that covered bus and train (and now Midlands Metro). Such interchangeability did much to improve my mobility and access to services/jobs. Maybe with proper devolution we can hope for this to be set up by the National Assembly and the network of lines throughout south east Wales extended.

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