Getting an hourly service on the Cambrian Line

One of the better things that Ieuan Wyn Jones did as the minister responsible for transport in the One Wales Government was to produce a National Transport Plan, which put a much greater emphasis on public transport and non-car solutions than before.

Chapter 6 of the NTP focused on the east-west corridor in mid-Wales. In parallel with improvements to roads, the Welsh Government committed itself to introduce an hourly rail service between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury by 2011.

Even after the 2011 Assembly elections, the new WG reaffirmed that this remained a priority in its Prioritized National Transport Plan of December 2011, although the implementation date had now slipped. But nothing was actually delivered, and in July this year the current Minister responsible for transport, Edwina Hart, issued a Written Statement saying that:

In terms of the Cambrian Main Line hourly service, the way is clear for an operator to introduce additional services though it is important to be mindful of the tough financial settlement we are facing. I have asked the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Railway Liaison Committee to co-ordinate work with the other rail interest groups to investigate the demand for rail services ...

I have been clear that this should complement the work of the Local Growth Zones and be consistent with the tourism strategy. Accordingly, initially for the Cambrian Line and the Heart of Wales Line, my tourism sector panel will provide a view on the feasibility of proposals for summer tourist trains on a trial basis. I will make an announcement for summer 2014 in due course.

Written Statement, 18 July 2013

This was a shameful and disappointing announcement. What had been a firm commitment under the One Wales Government, and then reaffirmed as a commitment by the new Labour Government, had now slipped off its list of priorities altogether; and Edwina Hart was in fact questioning whether to go ahead with hourly services on the line at all. In referring the matter back for public consultation she was acting in almost exactly the same way as the Tories have reacted to devolving Stamp Duty to Wales. It was a breathtaking display of double standards.

The tragedy of the situation is that the infrastructure work to allow trains to run hourly has already been completed, at a cost of some £13m. This expendure is currently going to waste. It is a perfect illustration of the lack of joined-up thinking.


The news today is that a survey to assess the demand for an hourly rail service has now been launched by the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Rail Liaison Committee. As well as questionnaires handed out on trains and at stations, the survey can also be completed online at, or click the image below:


Yes, it's disappointing that we have to go through the process of demonstrating that there is a demand for an hourly rail service all over again. But it will only take a few minutes to complete the survey, and I'd urge everyone with an interest in using the line to do so, even if you might only use it occasionally.

For some reason, the current Welsh Government seems to have got it into its head that additional tourist trains might be some sort of half-way option. Of course tourists will be one of the groups that will benefit from an improved service in summer, but everyone will benefit from a year-round improvement in services. Commuters, business users, social users, students, young people and everyone without a car (either permanently or temporarily) will benefit ... and, as always, the more disadvantaged will benefit more than the better-off. It's a complete no-brainer. Alongside the hourly service, longer trains and more earlier and later trains should be considered, as well as on-board services such as wi-fi. Just say so in the boxes at the bottom of the survey.

Let's leave the Welsh Government in no doubt whatsoever that there is an across-the-board demand for an improved, hourly service on this line.

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Rhydgaled said...

Improving the service is easier said than done. The problem is rolling stock. A 2-hourly Shrewsbury - Aberystwyth shuttle to boost the frequency of service to hourly would require a further two class 158 units out of the pool of 24 fitted with the ERTMS equipment necessary to operate on the Cambrian. That means 2 less class 158s (one of the nicer types of train operated by Arriva Trains Wales) available for services elsewhere.

One option that may be taken is cutting the Cambrian coast (Pwllheli/Barmouth line) service back to Machynlleth, which would reduce all trains between Machynlleth and Shrewsbury to two coaches from the current 4 (2 from Aberystwyth and 2 from the Cambrain coast). Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be anywhere on the form for comments like this, or my opinion on how the hourly Aberystwyth service should be implemented.

Anonymous said...

Rolling stock shouldn't be a problem if Welsh Government committ to it. THere are spare 158 units which can be ERTMS'd up (this according to a WG advisor to the minister). If £42million is not a problem (impulse purchase of an airport in Barry which will serve no use at all to mid and north Wales) then funding additional 158 or other units is certainly not a problem. Don't beleive the scaremongers who will always give reasons why something is not possible.

Rhydgaled said...

Spare 158 units? Where? If there were any, why are the Cardiff - Portsmouth trains still 3-car not 4-car? And why is the daytime express boat train to and from Fishguard still worked by a woefully inapropriate class 150 inner-suburban unit? There are currently some ERTMS 158s which are used on services which don't need ERTMS, but you'd need to find other units to release them from their current duties.

The best solution I can see is obtaining more loco-hauled trainsets, similar to the Holyhead - Cardiff 'Y Gerralt Gymro', and using these on north Wales - Manchester services to release class 175 units. Those class 175s can then be used on new Chester/Crewe - Holyhead workings, allowing the Birmingham - Holyhead trains (which come off the Cambrian so have to be class 158s) to be cut back to Birmingham - Chester. That saves the two 158s needed for the Cambrian.

My real question is how I suggest this kind of stuff to Welsh Government as part of this consultation.

MH said...

Although I'm not as aware of the technical/logistical problems as you are, TRhW, I would say that the first thing that needs to be established (or re-established) is that there is a demand for an hourly service. That seems to me to be the point of this survey. Without the demand, there is no point in worrying about how to satisfy it. But if the demand is shown to be there, people will then have to scratch their heads about how to provide enough rolling stock for it.

However the answer would appear to be to take ERTMS-fitted 158s from other routes, replacing them with alternatives from somewhere.

As for how to get your views across, the first of the three boxes at the bottom appears to be the best place. But I think it might be good to phone or email the person on the contact page for more advice. He should be able to point you in the right direction.

Robert Robinson
Secretary (of Welshpool Town Council, I think)
Triangle House
Union Street
SY21 7PG

01938 553142

Rhydgaled said...

Thanksfor the advice, MH

Anonymous said...

... I would say that the first thing that needs to be established (or re-established) is that there is a demand for an hourly service.

Seriously spend a week using the Cambrian line! Over crowded trains, Newtown station is usually packed out. The passenger numbers on the line are higher now than they have ever been since the railway was built. No brainer! Disgusting how so much money is thrown at silly road projects around here. Re-open the smaller stations, bring an hourly service in.. Its really that simple and so cost effective!

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