Simon Thomas outlines why a Carmarthen to Aberystwyth train line is so important
The Carmarthen to Aberystwyth railway line lives on in living memory and, mostly, in physical evidence on the ground. It was finally closed to freight in 1973, almost a century after it was first opened.
Over the years, many pointed out the short-sighted decision to close the railway and the huge gap in the rail network around Wales that was created. Most recently, a campaign group called Traws Link Cymru was established to work for the re-opening of this connection, and the auxiliary connection to Bangor. I believe it is high time rural rail development was given the same serious consideration as urban projects such as the south Wales Metro.
With the growth of Carmarthen and Aberystwyth as work and economic centres since the closure of the line, there is no doubt that the line would attract people in their hundreds of thousands. Many people would use it to commute, to go to hospitals, to go shopping and as part of the north-south network. Many others would use it for tourism purposes. It would even provide an opportunity to move a few Mansel Davies lorries from our roads to rail.
55,000 people live along the route between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth, which compares with the 50,000 who live on the route from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury. Not only is that line still open, but it is increasing in terms of its usage. I am in no doubt that people would use this line. It would become a crucial link between north and south Wales, and from west Wales to Swansea and Cardiff.
Traws Link Cymru suggest using much of the old line, which is still in place, with a new section from Alltwalis to Carmarthen and purposeful re-location in other areas. This could provide stations at Llandysul/Pencader, Llanybydder, Lampeter, Tregaron, Llanilar and Llanfarian, then commuting into Aberystwyth. That would involve a journey of approximately an hour and a half between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen, which compares favourably to car and bus times. Others would favour re-looking at the engineering in its entirety, proposing a light rail system.
Campaigners turn for inspiration to Scotland, where a new line is being for the Borders region at a cost of around £11 million per mile.
That would mean that the cost of constructing a similar line from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth would be £650 million. That is, of course, a significant amount of money, but different engineering proposals could bring the cost down.
If you look at this in the context of closing the gap between Cricieth and Bangor; the now announced hourly service on the Cambrian line; improvements to the Heart of Wales line, and innovations such as Bwcabus for rural bus links, what you have is the potential for a truly national network that would offer real options to travel without a car across most of Wales.
In addition to that, you would have a scheme that will create jobs and skills in west Wales, in one of the most economically disadvantaged areas in Europe. It would provide opportunities for local apprenticeships, skills in colleges and local procurement for businesses over a long period. Only this year Network Rail announced that their apprenticeship scheme was only open in Cardiff, despite the railway history of town such as Llanelli. This investment to link these two important towns would do more to keep the Welsh language alive in the counties of Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion than any language strategy or any taskforce, however excellent they may be.
At present, according to Network Rail’s projections, Wales will have 3% of Network Rail’s infrastructure expenditure. If we had 5%, in line with the Barnett formula it would give us an additional £135 million a year. If we had a Barnett consequential for HS2 expenditure, that would give us an additional £1.9 billion, which would be more than enough build this line.
This is why Plaid Cymru’s consultation paper on transport post 2016 highlights the need for a real feasibility study on re-opening the line. This is a piece of work well suited to the next round of EU structural funds.