REPORT FROM THE SHREWSBURY ABERYSTWYTH RAIL PASSENGERS’ ASSOCIATION TO THE LINE LIAISON COMMITTEE, 22 MARCH 2013
This report gives an outline of SARPA’s activities since July 2012.
1) Hourly service.
We have pressured the Welsh Government (WG) on account of continued delay with the implementation of enhanced train services on the Cambrian Main Line. We would accept that in constrained economic times, it may be difficult to finance the full blown hourly train service before 2015 but given the capability of the railway to offer enhanced economic opportunities to ordinary people, we feel that some consideration should be given to improved services on an incremental basis before then. As a priority, we would put forward that commuter trains into and out of Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth at the appropriate times of day would be a good place to start. This would help to alleviate poverty and economic hardship by enabling working people to access jobs away from their immediate locality, without needing to use a car. We have tried in the past to ascertain the nature of the proposed Cambrian line service enhancements through a Freedom of Information Request. However, this endeavour was engulfed by the fog of “Commercial Confidentiality”. We would point out that we are not alone in this. We have seen a paper written by Powys County Council, which indicates frustration at the lack of available details regarding the delayed service commencement. We also understand that TraCC have expressed disappointment that there is still no firm date for implementation.
This dearth of proper information has been most unhelpful to stakeholders as it does not enable them to make a proper contribution to discussion and debate. However, pressure from ourselves has elicited the following response, though its still not much to work with! “With regards to the further work that is required for the introduction of the enhanced service, this relates to the infrastructure enhancements that were completed in parallel with the introduction of ERTMS. These were modelled to sustain an improved timetable. Since ERTMS has become operational, trains running under it are not achieving the anticipated sectional running times. Network Rail is therefore mobilising further infrastructure works, at their own cost, to rectify these issues.”
The new ERTMS signalling system has been set as one of the reasons for nonimplementation of the hourly service (See above). We are not entirely convinced by the reasoning given as the system has been recorded as settling down well and timekeeping is better than the national average. Moreover, casual observations have noted trains frequently arriving ahead of time along the route. We have been concerned at the cost of installing the onboard equipment required. We note that Arriva trains Wales (ATW) have commented that it might almost have been cheaper to build new trains. We have tried to make the case that further development work is necessary to make the system more portable, with smaller on board components and which can be installed in rolling stock more cheaply. Only then will ERTMS fulfil its undoubted potential and reduce the cost of signalling.
Page 1 /Meanwhile
Meanwhile we are concerned that in the future, the Cambrian will once again receive cascaded diesel trains when the Class 158s which currently operate the service become
life expired in 1015
years time. Of course, the cost of fitting ERTMS into these vehicles will be at least as expensive as for the trains used today. We have drawn the attention of WGto this matter and have indicated that proper provision should be made in the next Wales & Borders Franchise Agreement, due to be let in 2018. We are not entirely convinced they have got the message that if a sensible strategy is not outlined, it could prove very expensive for WG.
3) Steam Service
The steam service which operated between Machynlleth and Porthmadog/Pwllheli in the summer has been a casualty of the ERTMS trial. It was seen as a valuable economic catalyst for the towns on the route and was operating with increasingly heavy loadings. Network Rail have not thus far fitted any steam locomotive with ERTMS. We understand this is on the grounds of expense. We have heard seven figure sums bandied around! In some circles, steam traction is seen as a nuisance, though we would counter this by saying that whenever a steam locomotive has come to the Cambrian, it has pulled trains and made money and therefore deserves more support. We have discovered that in Switzerland, the engineering company DLM have fitted a steam engine with a version of ERTMS which is used there. The locomotive concerned is
No. 52.8055, a rebuilt German “Kriegslok” and which is now oil fired. The equipment comprises Balise readers and computers housed in the tender. A driver’s display is mounted in the cab. The cost of fitting was around £45,000 GBP equivalent. One of our members has advised us that the Swiss system is not full ERTMS and that their network will be migrated to this by the end of the decade. At that point, 52 8055 will have to be upgraded, though we note that there is a long way between £45,000 and a seven figure sum! In the meantime, we have been in touch with an organisation called 5AT
(http://www.5at.co.uk) who have indicated that they would be willing to build a brand new machine, primarily for operation on the Cambrian. Enhanced technology would provide greater reliability and range, with reduced maintenance and running costs and the locomotive would be fired with light oil. ERTMS would be fitted from new. We would suggest that funding for such a venture might be obtained if the engine was seen as a social regeneration project and we invite further discussion. We note that the Swanage railway recently received a seven figure grant from the “Coastal Communities Fund” and the Welsh Highland received a large amount from WG.
We have made representations to WG regarding the huge sum of money it is proposed to spend on the Heads of the Valleys’ Road, amounting to over £500m in addition to monies already spent. WG has recently justified its proposed investment in this construction project despite a poor cost benefit analysis, on the basis that it will act as catalyst to regenerate the Head of the Valleys area. Page 2 /We believe We believe that the money would have been better spent enhancing the Welsh rail network and this includes reopenings. It is vital that spending on transport includes the whole of Wales, where connections are astonishingly bad for a modern European nation. Indeed, it is time that WG made some effort to roll back the damage done by Beeching.
We continue to press for integration between modes of transport, though we have been disappointed with the poor level of priority given to this by some councils along the route. We would welcome some positive news on this front, particularly with regard to Welshpool, where a service bus does not even stop at the station. We would welcome further discussions with the various parties to bring about a successful outcome.