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.
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 midwalesrailsurvey.co.uk, 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.