Connecting Carmarthen and Aberystwyth

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.

Simon Thomas is the Assembly Member for Mid and West Wales, and is Plaid Cymru Spokesperson for Education.

50 thoughts on “Connecting Carmarthen and Aberystwyth

  1. It is surely highly unlikely that this will be funded by Government, Barnett Formula or otherwise. Llangollen Steam Railway which is a volunteer organisation has extended their line through Carrog(it’s current termination point) onto Corwen linking the tourist towns together which will be a boost for the economy of the Dee Valley. If the main line from Ruabon was linked back up to Llangollen(severed thanks to the infamous Beeching axe) it would be a tremendous boost to tourism for the World Heritage Site & AONB, but a succession of short sighted Local Government decision has meant the track bed has been built over in places, other stretches sold off and bridges removed. So again the costs would be enormous, but would be a sustainable project protecting the environment and allowing residents of the Dee Valley to commute to their workplaces in North East Wales and the North West which a high proportion do by motor vehicle currently.

  2. This is a debate I have been following for a while and it is interesting to see the growth in local support for the idea. As Simon points out, a great deal of focus has been on the development of the South Wales Metro but there are other areas of Wales which deserve the same level of attention.

    My one technical point on this line is that it should be engineered to achieve running speeds between 90 and 100mph between the two towns. The great advantage of rail over road is that it can achieve higher speeds. This means that in terms of time taken, it should always be preferable to choose travel by train. Plus there is the added factor of taking the strain of driving out of the equation. The project therefore should not be looking for comparable journey times between rail and road but superior ones.

    I’ll finish with my own little pet idea which is that of reconnecting the Marcher towns to the capital city. Towns like Brecon, Builth Wells, Llandrindod and Newtown are disconnected from the capital city except by road and I think I’m right in saying that there isn’t a single dual carriageway along the A470 north of Merthyr. It seems to me that having a line connecting them to Cardiff would help in the economic regeneration of these areas.

    Such a line would not be uncontroversial since it would involve crossing the Brecon Beacons which would have to happen in an environmentally sensitive way. The environmental advantage however would be that it would provide carbon friendly access to the Beacons as well as making the area accessible for those without cars. Sticking to current transport corridors across the Beacons would be one way of achieving this.

    A first step of opening the line from Brecon to Merthyr, a distance of some 19 miles would, according to Simon’s figures, cost £209 million, not exactly a king’s ransom in today’s financial world. I have also thought that, given the annual traffic jam that greets the start of the Royal Welsh, it would relieve the stress on the roads if a direct rail line took people into the heart of Builth itself. Over the four days, the Show attracts about a quarter of a million people. Imagine the income that could be generated if a proportion of those travelled to the show by train. Again running speeds of 90 to 100 mph would be necessary to make it a worthwhile choice for the travelling public.

    For any of this to happen, the concept of the social railway would have to be resurrected in the Welsh context. George Osborne is all in favour of the railway as an aid to economic regeneration and generator of substantial income. What he seems less in favour of is the social railway which requires subsidy but provides a useful connection to the inhabitants of those towns. For that, we would need to turn to Scotland where the reopening of previously abandoned lines has gone from strength to strength. Time for a bit of research I think.

  3. (This is not part of the message but is an instruction: Please do not add me to the IWA mailing list)

    Plaid Cymru’s consultation paper requests responses to the consultation paper by 1st May but this article was published five days later. Is there any chance of an extension to the time allowed to respond?

  4. Good Luck to Simon Thomas.
    In 1958 I well remember traveling on the old line from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth where my family originated ,It was quite delightful ,the journey’s charm was increased by the train having to break the single line journey and pull into a halt to wait for the train coming south so that it could pass. On a warm July summer afternoon we did as suggested by the guard and got out for a walk on the grass .
    As a Tory I doubt if the cost of reopening the line could be justified.But what is the Welsh Assembly for, if not to look into the possibility!
    Reopening the line could restore memories of the charisma of yesterday Wales.

  5. RBJ: There used to be a railway line over the Beacons. It went up the valley from Pontsticill to a station on the bwlch at Torpantau and then down to Talybont on Usk. It has been converted to a hikers’ trail.
    One false note in Simon Thomas’ piece was the desire for his proposal to get the same attention as the Cardiff metro. The Cardiff metro is a fantasy scheme that will never happen. It may be a good idea but it requires co-ordination among local authorities, between local authorities and the Welsh government and among Welsh government departments. Any one of those is difficult, all three together is impossible. Moreover it requires money that the Welsh government hasn’t got. They would need income tax powers to get the necessary borrowing powers and they don’t want those. Unambitious unco-ordinated governments don’t undertake highly ambitious projects requiring massive co-ordination.

  6. I doubt there are enough Labour Party voting fodder along it’s route to make this project seem worth-while.

  7. In terms of reopening old lines or building new ones, it is rare for there not to be an engineering solution to any problem. If they can build Crossrail fully underground in London from Paddington in the West to Stratford and Custom House in the East, they can find a solution to entering Aberystwyth from the south. However a feasibility study is the obvious next step for which, according to Simon, finance is available from the EU.

    @ R Tredwyn

    Yes I’ve been up on the Brecon Mountain Railway which follows the old trackbed from Pant to Torpantau and walked the rest of the route from Torpantau to Talybont-on-Usk. For a modern day railway however, this is not a very good route since it lacks directness and would not permit the speeds necessary to make the line an attractive travelling option. I think that a route that followed the current transport corridor (A470) would be an environmentally more acceptable option. Admittedly it may have to travel on the opposite side of the valley and there is the small matter of where it would emerge near Storey Arms – a tunnel may be required. But I think we should leave the old trackbed to the tourist railway and the hikers.

    I must, however, disagree with you on your description of the South East Wales Metro as a fantasy scheme that will never happen. Your point regarding coordination has been met by Edwina Hart’s desire to have a dedicated body responsible for the construction and running of the Metro. Local authorities would be required to cooperate but the body, call it a transport authority, would have powers directly given from the Assembly, obviating the requirement for local authority approval.

  8. If anything I would argue this is more likely to happen than the South Wales Metro. Entire communities have been left isolated for 50 years and this more than anything will attract young people back to Ceredigion. I would be one of them.

    Altogether this would cost £650m. A bargain when weighing up the huge benefits.

    Such a shame that Welsh Labour think the world ends at Bridgend.

    First step is full devolution of rail to Wales.

  9. The reopening of Carmarthen to Aberystwyth line is absolutely essential for the future prosperity of west Wales.

  10. Difficult to disagree with anything that has gone before… and in the spirit of ‘pet’ projects…

    To my mind the Bangor to Cricieth connection is the most compelling… Linking Bangor to Caernarfon adds to a potential north west Wales network with its hub at Bangor, particularly if Llangefni is linked to the main line as well. Taking it on to Cricieth brings Porthmadog into the network and connects north west Wales with Aberystwyth (and in the world of academia, heritage and the arts that is an important axis). If Aberystwyth were linked to Carmarthen the whole of the west is linked and provides a proper link from Bangor to Swansea.

    Both projects have merits of their own, but together they are greater than the sum of their parts.

    Rhobat’s Cardiff, Brecon, Builth, etc. line… Duw, the times I’ve crawled up and down the A470 between Cardiff and Denbigh, praying for the day a train would connect north and south quickly and efficiently – I’ve designed the bridges, tunnels and stations myself in the time it took to get through Newtown at rush hour… In my dreams it shall remain, I suspect though.

  11. RBJ. Time will tell but I’m prepared to bet real money that the metro won”t happen. The local authorities, the objects of Mrs Hart’s disdain, are the only bodies that could borrow to finance the metro. The Welsh government will use its limited borrowing powers on the M4 and will not have the money. In Wales we often think setting up a body solves a problem. Each of Mrs Hart’s enterprise zones has a governing body or Board. Trouble is there’s nothing happening on the ground, nor likely to be in most of them. You can predict with 95 per cent confidence the same will happen with the metro. Haven’t you been paying attention for the last 15 years? How many large co-ordinated schemes have been accomplished in Wales?

  12. MHR. Full rail devolution was offered to Wales some years back. The Welsh government didn’t like the settlement. They were afraid maintaining the network would cost more than the money they would get under Barnett. They turned it down in the same way they are currently turning down the referendum on income tax and the borrowing powers that would go with it. Welsh governments since 1999 have been averse to financial risk and not very keen on financial responsibility. It will take a huge change in attitude for them to really take on a project of the scale, cost and complexity of the Cardiff metro or, indeed, any really big rail project.

  13. An interesting article, and an idea I wish well. I also found Rhobat Bryn Jones’ comments worth consideration.

    Maybe because I grew up in Builth Road and remember playing on the remains of the old Mid Wales Railway line that runs through the village I have a romantic attachment to the idea of a railway line better connecting north and south Wales. I also remember all the passengers coming to Builth Road for the Royal Welsh and think that the suggestion that another line directly to Builth (Llanelwedd really!) from Brecon further south and Newtown further north (as the line used to run) would be a great way to attract more people and help ease congestion on the roads. It would also be spectacular line to ride on passing through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the UK, and could be a popular tourist attraction.

    Also, on Rhobat’s suggestion of better connecting central Wales with the capital, I am all for that! I have driven that route from Builth to Cardiff too many times to count, and while it is a scenic drive sometimes you do just need to get back home or to work a bit quicker. He is right that there are no dual carriageways after Merthyr, and there is also the Brecon Beacons national park to consider, but I don’t think a few strategically placed overtaking lanes or small sections of dual carriageway between Brecon and Builth or a bit of road straightening would do much harm to the areas beauty.

    Better connecting our small but disconnected country should be one of the key concerns of any Welsh Government worthy of the name. I don’t buy any of the nonsense that it is too difficult because Wales is too hilly. I am currently living in Australia and my local railway line seems to cut through a much more difficult landscape and does so in such a way as to make journeys a pleasure. I do accept though that money is the key to it all and we need to improve our economy in Wales, but there is an element of chicken and egg to this argument.

    I hope that one day I will be able to easily travel around my home country and to see all corners without necessarily having to resort to the car. Maybe I could even live back in Builth and commute to Cardiff for work.

  14. The route described links he university town of Carmarthen with the university town of Aberystwyth and passes through the university town of Lampeter. Surely some potential mileage in that.

  15. There are lessons to be learned from the Llangollen Railway experience, and other railway ventures such as the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. The Llangollen Railway is not connected to the national network, which is unfortunate for the Company and local communities. The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways are connected to the network, but operate on a narrower gauge. The companies cater mainly to tourists and excursionists, to use a phrase adopted in the 1860’s when the railways were first built in these areas.

    The development and operation of these railways depends on a dedicated body of volunteers. But certain engineering skills have to be purchased at commercial rates, particularly in the development phase. Several sections of the Llangollen to Corwen railway would not have been refurbished without professional/ commercial engineering expertise. I am uncertain about the voluntary versus acquired services in operations such as fund raising, marketing, government approvals, the resolution of property issues and community relations, but the subject is worth consideration to see how it works, and if there are lessons to be learned.

    As to the connection between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen. The link with national network needs to be envisaged as a service between Aberystywth, Cardiff/Swansea and beyond in addition to the connection between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen. The service between Aberystwyth and Birmingham International improved recently, but my impression based on a journey last year is that it operates as a commuter run between Birmingham and Telford which slows down overall the journey time. Being of a certain certain age, I remember the Cambrian Coast Express of pre-Beeching days and the through service that it provided.

    Second, governments alone cannot do the job. Perhaps there needs to be a hybrid organization to develop a business case based on a partnership of local authorities that draws on the expertise and experience of the small railways in Wales, including the defunct Wrexham and Shropshire. Sustained community support and engagement is essential in this respect, and perhaps lessons learned from the methods of Henry Robertson and Benjamin Piercy as promoters and developers of railways back in the days when local shareholders could anticipate a respectable annual dividend.

  16. In my mind, the only way of accessing Aberystwyth town centre now is to tunnel from the Ystwyth valley and come out at Glanyrafon, linking up with the shrewsbury line on the run in towards Llanbadarn. Then you would need another platform.

    I really support the idea in principle, but think the plan needs more meat on the bone to gain greater credibility with the public.

  17. Just imagine Edwina, when you and your husband along wih Gwenda Thomas want to visit the Harbourmaster at Aberaeron in the distant future, you would be able to make the journey by train. Go for it!

  18. @ Matthew Hywel Rees

    To date, the South Wales Metro has received £60 million from the Welsh Government whereas the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen line has yet to receive any funding from any source.

    @ Phil Davies

    I must admit that the thought of having the North-South line built in the West of the country rather than through the Marches had not occurred to me, though I must admit that it’s an idea that makes a lot of sense.

    With regards the new Mid-Wales line, it would need to be developed on the basis of being a social railway and would best be developed in stages. Opening a new line from Merthyr to Brecon would only be 19 miles long which is hardly revolutionary. Certain questions would follow such a proposal:

    What would be the expected usage of the line once built;

    How could the line facilitate economic development in Brecon;

    Would the people of Brecon welcome a railway connection to the capital city;

    If journey times between Cardiff and Merthyr were reduced putting Brecon within an hour of Cardiff, how many people would choose to live in Brecon and commute to Cardiff;

    How could the line be used to promote tourism to Brecon;

    How could the line reduce the number of car visits to the Beacons and make the area accessible to those without cars?

    I’m sure there are a great many other questions to consider but these are some useful ones to start with. So given that Aberystwyth with a population of 13,000 is served by a line which is just short of 80 miles in length, is it so fanciful to suggest that we consider a 19 mile long line to Brecon – population 8,250?

    All of this can be dismissed as a pipedream but when you consider the scale of the reopenings that have taken place in Scotland, these proposals are a mere drop in the ocean. We are far too timid in our ambitions in Wales. We seek to have extra powers over our lives and societies and yet shy away from using them when the opportunity presents itself. It doesn’t mean that we don’t apply the proper level of scrutiny to new proposals but we should be thinking about how we can use these powers to improve the quality and facilities of our society rather than just keeping the machine ticking over.

    England is developing Crossrail and HS2. We should show the same ambition when it comes to developing the railway infrastructure of our country.

  19. @ R Tredwyn

    A project of this size contains many problems that need to be overcome, none of which are a good reason not to start. The Welsh Government has already committed £60 million to the project which is hardly a sign of a lack of commitment. I’ve no desire to persuade you from the cynical stand you have taken except to say that cynicism is the easiest position in the world to defend and the one that achieves nothing. I would rather try and fail than not bother at all.

    @ Daniel Lawrence

    I believe the IWA published a report many moons ago now in which it commissioned an engineering company to make suggestions for dualling parts of the A470. No Government action resulted from it but it is the most coherent answer to date for the problem of overtaking on our main national North-South road. Perhaps someone else with a longer memory than me could supply further details.

    I’m grateful for your supportive comments. I do think that the Welsh Marches tend to be overlooked when it comes to talking of Wales but, given their proximity to the Cardiff Capital Region:

    Brecon 19 miles

    Builth Wells 40 miles

    Llandrindod 48 miles

    Newtown 73 miles

    some effort should be made to provide access to this key economic region from the Welsh Marches and to distribute some of its wealth northwards.

    @ Geraint Roberts

    Your suggestion of a tunnel to the east of Aberystwyth is a very practical one and shows that all problems can be solved if we put our minds to it. Do you have an idea as to how long the tunnel would need to be?

  20. Rhobat,

    “With regards the new Mid-Wales line, it would need to be developed on the basis of being a social railway and would best be developed in stages.”

    Yes, I agree. I suspect that there is no compelling business case for a north/south rail link through the marches per se, but there are probably half a dozen compelling business cases for the localised stages in between, as there is on the west coast (one would not build the Bangor to Cricieth line solely on the basis of a Bangor to Aber business case, rather on the extension of the Bangor / north west Wales network). However, having completed the national link, the overall benefit is greater than the sum of its parts.

    As you suggest, individual stages need to be designed and built with a later, national, link in mind, but I’m not sure that is beyond the wit of man.

    But in terms of priorities… ??

  21. As a transport professional with a background in rail planning, employed as transport policy officer to a large Welsh rural local authority and chair of one of our community rail partnerships, I very much welcome this debate. In my work I am constantly reminded of one of the characters in the film ‘Patagonia’ saying ‘for a small country it’s very hard to get around!’

    I have long argued that the need to use road transport in Wales is often a decidedly ‘distress purchase’ and that the restoration of rail services in a modern form on the Bangor – Afon Wen / Porthmadog and Aberystwyth – Carmarthen corridors, together with further upgrading of the Cambrian Coast Line, would offer many improved journey opportunities and reduced journey times as well as promoting the social and economic development of our western counties. Similar projects have recently taken place for similar reasons in Ireland, Scotland and The Netherlands. Unfortunately, to even raise this subject in Welsh ‘official circles’ was, until recently, to risk one’s professional credibility.

    Railways, whilst being an expensive mode, have the advantage that they are easier to improve incrementally than roads. This can be done through such interventions as upgrading track, bridges and other infrastructure and providing additional capacity using modern transmission-based signalling such as ERTMS. Modern rolling stock is better at minimising journey times through improved ability to cope with gradients and better acceleration and braking rather than requiring high maximum line speeds. The Cambrian Main Line is an example of what can be achieved.

    As other contributors have observed improvements along these three corridors are likely to have varying strategic priorities and overlapping business cases and it will be important to be clear about these, as well being essential to capture the external, i.e. non-transport, benefits. I have no doubt that this proposal fits into the Welsh Government’s economic development and sustainability agendas but it will be up to advocates to provide the Welsh Government and European Union with a very high quality and compelling case before it is taken seriously. Wishful thinking will not do!

  22. @ Phil Davies

    In terms of priorities in re-build or new build, I would say that Bangor to Caernarfon is the next project. It is only 10 miles long and would have the advantage of providing a useful local connection, bringing passengers to an already well established tourist attraction, as well as connecting with the tourist railway. This would facilitate a round trip from Caernarfon to Llandudno Junction to Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog and back to Caernarfon for the railway minded.

    Railway development now takes place within control periods so where a Merthyr-Brecon line would fit within that is anyone’s guess. But as a project, it would be useful to gauge local opinion on the matter, starting with the views of the local authorities and the Brecon Beacons National Park. If there was a reasonably warm welcome from these quarters (though I would expect a considerable degree of objection to crossing a National Park), then the next step would be, like the proposed Aberystwyth-Carmarthen line, a feasibility study.

    Just to reinforce the point about development in stages, I suspect that no-one would ever seriously consider anything north of Brecon until the new line had proved its worth. If it did, however, then it would be a lot easier to persuade people of a second stage from Brecon to Builth Road via Builth Wells which would enable visitors to reach the Royal Welsh ground at Llanelwedd by train (they now hold three major shows a year and all the other events that use the showground site) and putting Llandrindod within reach of the capital city.

  23. RBJ I take no pleasure in being pessimistic about the chances of metro success. I just think one has to learn from experience and there is no virtue in kidding oneself. The Welsh government has shown no capacity for projects of this complexity.

  24. What many supporters of the proposed re-opening of the railway line fail to acknowledge is the amount of potential environmental damage it would cause to the protected sites along the route including nature reserves that have been designated SSSI, SAC, RAMSAR by Natural Resources Wales. Hopefully the protection offered by NRW who assure me that the area cannot be touched, will prevent the line from ever opening along Cors Caron again!

  25. @ Marc Lewis

    I couldn’t agree more with your view that we will have to present a properly prepared business and social case for the opening of these lines. My intention is to try and pursue these aims through Railfuture Cymru which has a lot of experience and knowledge not just in railways but in understanding how the decision-making process works.

    One area that I personally need to research is that of railway financing. The model of franchising is coming under increasing scrutiny because people are beginning to question whether the apparent benefits outweigh the costs and the complexity. Given that responsibility for the franchise is likely to come to Cardiff Bay in 2018, we need to start examining what would be the best way of financing Welsh railways. There has already been mention of a not-for-dividend company along the lines of Glas Cymru to run the railways. We need to assess whether this is a financially viable model whatever the perceived social benefits.

  26. @ Elizabeth Jordan

    You’re right to say that, in this discussion, little mention has been made of the environmental impact of railway development. There are a few points worth making here.

    Railways have a beneficial environmental effect, especially electrification, since it reduces carbon omissions and takes traffic off the road.

    However it would be misleading to suggest that it is all good since, even in a limited way, the building of a railway involves disruption to the environment. But we have come a long way since the early days of railways in terms of environmental awareness. Track alignments are not fixed in stone but can be adapted to take account of the issues you raise. In fact, such features as cuttings and embankments can in themselves become areas of natural interest and have micro-environments of their own.

  27. I agree with Rhobat Bryn Jones that fast speeds are needed. On the Carmarthen-Aberystwyth route, the hundereds of millions needed to build the new line will only be justified if it can be done in under 1hr 30mins, prefrably 1hr 15mins.

    The most expensive bits of a new Carmarthen – Aberystwyth link would probably be:
    A new tunnel of over 2,500 meters to cut out a very slow, twisty, section of the former route
    A new tunnel of arround 1,100 meters into Aberystwyth
    Relocating the Gwili steam railway (I propose assisting them to establish themselves on the former Whitland and Taf Vale line, in return for them handing ownership of their current line from Carmarthen to Network Rail)
    About 15miles of 90mph track, some of it double to allow trains to pass

    However, while I support a new Carmarthen – Aberystwyth link (provided it is fast enough), I don’t think it should be the first priority. That honour goes to Bangor – Porthmadog (involving arround 6 miles of new route, which may or may not require some tunneling to avoid the longer former route via Afon Wen). This has the advantage that it can be phased, with Bangor – Caernarfon being followed by Caernarfon – Porthmadog and then upgrading of the exisiting line from Porthmadog to Newtown to permit a fast service every two hours from Bangor through to Newtown.

    On a related note, Ken Richards is right to say tha the connection between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen Wneeds to be envisaged as a service between Aberystywth, Cardiff/Swansea and beyond in addition to the connection between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen”. Given the point about speed, another prerequiste is to reduce the journey time between Carmarthen and Cardiff from the current 1h4 40mins via Swansea on the current train service to arround 1hr 15mins to compete with road. Even before Bangor-Caernarfon is rebuilt, Carmarthen – Cardiff could be cut to arround 1hr 25mins simply by introducing a new hourly train service calling a just Llanelli and Port Talbot Parkway.

    I also agree that any new Merthyr – Brecon route should follow the A470, much more direct than the old route.

  28. Nice to see the Welsh imagination needed to compose the Mabinogion is still with us. These contributions reflect the same imagination and the same remoteness from reality. Electrifying the existing valley lines is due to cost £400 million. A few miles of motorway around Newport, will cost £1 billion. Just dualling 9 miles of the A465 I see is supposed to cost over £300million. So how much do you think it would cost to build a high-speed railway from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth and on to Bangor or indeed from Merthyr to Brecon over the Beacons? I don’t know but I’d guess any of those projects would cost at least £3 billion and if you did the lot, it would be well over £10 billion. All railways, private or nationalized, require subsidies so having built it we’d have to pay to run it. The UK currently subsidizes all railways by a average of 6.8 p a passenger mile. These Welsh railways would need a much bigger subsidy. The total Welsh annual budget is £14 billion, the annual capital budget is below £1.5 billion. Total Welsh GDP is only a bit over £40 billion. The Mabinogion solution would be to find a money tree or a magic pot of gold. About as much chance of that as of building these railways.

  29. @ Rhydgaled

    Thanks for your supportive comments.

    I have to take issue with your view concerning journey times between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen; you suggest under 1hr 30 mins, preferably 1hr 15mins. In my view this would be too slow.

    The fastest journey without traffic is I hour 13 mins over a distance of 48.7 miles. This route goes via Aberaeron and Llandysul. So this is the key competitive comparison. The railway would have to compete with this time to attract passengers away from the roads. I would suggest that a figure of an hour gives a competitive advantage of a quarter of an hour that would prove suitable.

    The question is by which route the journey would be made. As I see it, there are four options:

    1) Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – Newcastle Emlyn – Carmarthen;

    2) Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – Llandysul – Carmarthen;

    3) Aberystwyth – Aberaeron – Lampeter – Carmarthen;

    4) Aberystwyth – Tregaron – Lampeter – Carmarthen.

    I will not compare all the options here (this is not a paper after all) but I believe that Lampeter would have to be on the route. It is the largest of all the intermediate towns listed above and, as has been mentioned before, it has a university college so there is a large student market to be tapped.

    The question then is whether the route goes via Aberaeron or Tregaron. My personal preference is for Aberaeron. Firstly, it is a third larger in population size than Tregaron, it attracts a considerable tourist traffic which could be taken off the road if it were reachable by train and it would avoid rebuilding the line across Cors Caron and thus meet any environmental objections that might arise from choosing that route.

    A comparison then has to be made between the different distances involved. By road the Aberaeron-Lampeter option is a distance of 52.5 miles whereas the Tregaron-Lampeter option is a distance of 52.3 miles. So there is no disadvantage either way.

    In terms of reaching a target time of an hour for the journey, the average line speed on the track via Aberaeron and Lampeter would have to be 52.5 miles per hour. One has to take into account the time of station stops, the acceleration and deceleration capabilities of the rolling stock. I am assuming that the line would not be electrified and thus diesel multiple units would have to be used. Unfortunately the acceleration of these units tends to be slower than electric. However if there were few stops and the line was engineered apppropriately, it should not be too difficult to reach this average speed.

    But let us be a little ambitious. Given that this not a metro system and that long stretches of track could be travelled at speed, it is not a substantial increase to aim for an average line speed of of 60 mph. If this were achieved, then Aberystwyth to Carmarthen would be a 53 minute journey. This would allow a 7 minute turnaround. Thus it would only require two units (plus a replacement) to operate an hourly service between the three university towns.

  30. Having just travelled to Pembrokeshire from our home in west Shropshire for the first time via Devils bridge , the amazing and previously unknown cors Caron, of wool bale tracks , Tregaron , Lampeter and Newcastle emlyn I immediately wondered why the railway was closed, as it must have been a vital link between communities before closure. Having spent the last year helping the alliance group fight the despoliation of mid wales by silly windfarms ( which, incidentally, we hear the Dutch plan to power their railways with?? , and formerly as a town councillor in wantage , failing sadly to pretext the last vestiges of the famous wantage tramway from ruination by sainsburys( a perpetual running sore) I would love to back a truly positive campaign for the reinstatement of this most beautiful of routes, which would properly reconnect the broken ends of wales’s railways . I’m sure but a fraction of the idiotic hs2 money would achieve this end . Talk to Michael Portillo and friends ( with whom I was acquainted at university) and to as many rail celebs as possible and I will join the campaign as a Potts person , living as I do a stones throw from said defunct line.
    Good luck and go for it .. Think BIG .
    Sally Whipple green from maesbrook .

  31. Rhobat Bryn Jones, I agree with the idea of givng the railway a competitive advantage of a quarter of an hour over the car. However, I don’t have any experience of car journeys between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen, so I was using a car journey time of 1hr 30mins. Another look online reveals that the ‘Winckler review’ of the TrawsCymru bus network says the car journey time is 1hr 25mins, compared to 2hr 15mins by bus. The bus is far too slow to be competive.

    For Carmarthen – Cardiff, the AA journey planner website suggests 1hr 19mins by car. Sadly I don’t think rail will ever be able to beat that by much, but aiming for a train taking 1hr 15mins (instead of arround 1hr 40 on today’s slow rail service) would at least match the car. That’d be a step in the right direction anyway, and in my opinion is an essential pre-requisite for a Carmarthen – Aberystwyth line.

    If you can come up with a way to make trains go from Aberystwyth to Cardiff in 2hrs or less that really would be something, but how would you do it? We need a rail engineer to take a look at Carmarthen-Aberystwyth and see what the fastest feesible route is, if it can be done in an hour then great. I am not a rail engineer, but I know that a railway needs to be straight to be fast and doubt it can be done (maybe if you’re happy to double the cost).

    You’re Aberaeron option sounds interesting, but there never was a railway from Aberaeron to Aberystwyth (you had to go via Lampeter I think). I have travelled that stretch of coastline many times and in my uninformed opinion it looks like very difficult terrain for building a railway.

    Assuming instant acceleration to full linespeed (adding two minutes for each intermediate station, of which I am assuming 9, and another minute for Carmarthen and Aberystwyth), I reckon an Aberystwyth-Carmarthen rail journey time of 1hr 10mins would be challanging to acheive if the entire route was double track (which it wouldn’t be, so you need to add time sat at passing loops too). That 1hr 10mins is based on the following linespeed assumptions:

    Carmarthen – Cynwyl Elfed tunnel, 55mph
    Cynwyl Elfed tunnel – Llanpumsaint, 75mph
    Llanpumsaint – Lampeter, 60mph
    Lampeter – Pontrhydfendigaid Road, 90mph
    Pontrhydfendigaid Road – Llanfarian, 60mph
    Llanfarian – Aberystwyth, 50mph

  32. @ Rhydgaled

    It is possible to use the bus as a comparison but the effect of that is to set the bar too low. Rural bus services are notoriously slow and it is not difficult to compete with them. I would keep to the view that for a rail service to win custom, it has to compete effectively with the car. The figures I used were drawn from Google maps without traffic so I have deliberately chosen the best journey time possible with which to compete. That said, I’m grateful for your having drawn attention to the Winckler Review and the journey times contained within it.

    Aberaeron was reached by a branch line from Lampeter and was the terminus of the line. My point is however that, when we are considering railway development and rebuilding, we shouldn’t just attempt to revive the old lines uncritically. The fact that the line crossed Cors Caron in the past doesn’t mean that it will suit present needs. I would like to see a new line built between Merthyr and Brecon but to follow the old Brecon & Merthyr trackbed, apart from demolishing the Brecon Mountain Railway, would be too slow to be competitive. A modern line requires a more direct connection.

    With regards your point about difficult terrain, modern engineering means that we are not as constrained as were the Victorian engineers in having to follow the lie of the land. Admittedly there is a cost implication but if the result is a more useful line that is attractive to passengers, then the investment will have been worthwhile. You only have to travel on some of the modern lines in Italy to see what’s possible and theirs is a much more challenging terrain than anything we have.

    I’d be interested to know on what basis you calculated the linespeeds for the different sections of the line.

  33. I agree with the view that a rail service has to compete effectively with the car, NOT THE BUS. Were we disagree is how fast the car is between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. Whatever the car journey time is, ANY NEW RAIL LINK MUST NOT BE ANY SLOWER THAN THE CAR, otherwise it isn’t worth building the railway.

    I also agree that we shouldn’t just attempt to revive the old lines uncritically, if we did that the Carmarthen-Aberystwyth line would be slower than the car and hence not be worth rebuilding. The same is true, as you say, of linking Merthyr and Brecon: to follow the old trackbed would be too slow.

    As for my estimated linespeeds, I looked up the radius required for various speeds on the internet. Then I made circle of the relevant radi and overlaid these on a plot of my proposed route in Google Earth. There’s a bit of guesswork in there too, but basically my estimate is based on how tight the curves would be. As such, I wouldn’t be supprised if I’m way out, but a rough idea is better than nothing.

    Sure you can build a railway through difficult terrain, but there’s also the question of affordability. A fast line via Aberaeron might be more worthwhile, but if it costs £5bn or some other insane figure it simply isn’t going to happen. Doing Carmarthen – Lampeter in less than the 47mins the AA-route-planner website gives for the relevant car journey is going to be rather expensive as it is.

    Plus, it IS NOT worth building a Carmarthen – Aberystwyth railway unless you first SORT OUT THE CARMARTHEN – CARDIFF JOURNEY TIME.

    Getting to Cardiff faster requires the introduction of regular express service. These could take 1hr 25mins on existing infrustructure, but to equal the car you would need to knock another 10 minutes off that by improving the infrustructure. The service would need to average over 60mph.

  34. Many thanks for your explanation regarding line speeds. With regards the curves, bear in mind that superelevation enables trains to take curves at speed.

    In terms of costs, I believe Simon Thomas has used the figure of £11 million per mile which is based on figures used on the rebuilding of the Borders Railway in Scotland.

    It would appear that my comments regarding considering different options are behind the curve. A meeting has been advertised to take place in Tregaron on the 17th July to report on the progress of the campaign. It would appear therefore that reviving the old route has already been decided.

  35. Just taking estimated rail or car times between stations is meaningless. You also need to take into account the TIME it takes to get to a station, the COST and availability of parking there and at the other end how far away it is from where you actually want to go – less the car-parking place there. Once you put these factors in the car usually wins hands down, especially with families.

  36. @ Colin Miles

    As I said before, I wasn’t producing a report but shaping an argument, the basis of which being that if we are to develop or redevelop our rail network in Wales, it has to be engineered to travel faster than the car. But you’re right. It is not the only factor and the ones you mention are all valid.

    If you believe in persuading people out of their cars, then progress is made by nudging the marginal consumer from one mode to another. The family going out for the day is maybe not in that niche. Though the positive aspect of railway travel for the family would be not having the hassle of driving and finding a car parking space when you get there, and being able to spend time together on the train in preparation for a good day out.

    With regards the location of stations, both Aberystwyth and Lampeter are in the middle of their respective towns and Carmarthen is a 10 minute walk or 3 minutes by bus.

  37. @ Rhobat Bryn Jones

    You say ‘ Though the positive aspect of railway travel for the family would be not having the hassle of driving and finding a car parking space when you get there, ‘ Unfortunately one hassle is replaced by another, namely finding a parking space at the train station, not to mention the cost and time spent getting there.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would love trains to ‘take off’ again but with our current infrastructure it is difficult to see how that can happen. And there are too many hills in Wales – part of its beauty.

  38. @ Colin Miles

    I don’t disagree with you that not everyone will be willing to make the change of mode. Some people will always prefer the car whatever the conditions. You say that you would love trains to take off again; the point is they already are.

    To take a few examples, Cardiff Central station usage has increased in the five years from 2008-13 by 1.153 million; Carmarthen has increased by 69,000 over the same period; Merthyr Tydfil by 154,000.

    If you look at station usage across Wales and beyond, it shows a very similar pattern, people are choosing to travel by train in increasing numbers. In 2010, 1.3 billion journeys were made by train in the UK, the highest peacetime figure since 1928.

    The question is therefore whether we take a passive approach to this trend or an active one and investigate the potential for railway development in our own country. The Aberystwyth – Carmarthen campaign is beginning to gain momentum, I’m assuming it’s seen as an important element in the regional development of Ceredigion. The Merthyr to Brecon project is, as far as I can see, only a glint in my eye that may, one day, develop into something more.

    The point is however that, if we are to make sustainable decisions about railway development in Wales, we would have to do so on the basis of those who are likely to use the service rather than those who are not.

  39. I have now found some more information on TrawsLinkCymru’s website. They give a journey time of 1hr 30mins Carmarthen-Aberystwyth, Lampeter-Cardiff 2hrs 15 mins and Aberystwyth to Cardiff 3hrs. Going from that information and the AA route planner website, I can produce the following comparison:

    Aberystwyth – Lampeter: Car 48min, Rail 45mins,
    Lampeter – Carmarthen: Car 46min, Rail 45mins,
    Aberystwyth – Carmarthen: Car 1hr 25mins, Rail 1hr 30mins
    Carmarthen – Cardiff: Car 1hr 21mins, Rail (TrawsLinkCymru) 1hr 30mins, Rail (existing) 1hr 42mins

    Personally, I think this railway proposed by TrawsLinkCymru is still a bit too slow. By way of callabration, I also asked the AA route planner for a route I travel regularly, Cardigan to Aberystwyth. It gives a time of 55mins (the Winkler review says it is 1hr 2mins by car) which I think is pretty much spot on. My family generally allow an hour if driving it, so if anything the AA’s estimate is a little on the fast side. By the direct bus service (which now only runs once a day in each direction) Cardigan-Aberystwyth is 1hr 20mins.

  40. I use the cycle path between Aberystwyth and Strata florida, I would hate to loose this, but I can see the sense in opening the line. I saw a lot in the comments, comparing trains with cars. 1 we have passed peak oil, and need to head in the direction of maximum efficiency, and give up this selfish obsession with the car. 2 I live without a car and although i would love to have one i can manage without. 3 I think trains are a much nicer way to travel, leg room, no traffic jams, no other selfish idiots in cars trying to kill you. Plus you can have a couple of beers and look at the view. The only downside is changing trains (which would not be an issue on this line) but major investment needs to be put into the whole infrastructure to make train travel more pleasant ( like they used to have porters and baggage vans) MY MAIN POINT IS WHY DO YOU HAVE TO GO TO ENGLAND TO GET TO OUR CAPITAL CITY AND WHY DID MR BEACHING AXE THE LINES FROM NORTH TO SOUTH THIS IS BLATANT DISREGARD FOR THE WELSH PEOPLE Its fine if you coming on holiday to Wales but very hard for Welsh people to get from north to south. Also buses are slow and you get thrown around like cattle especially as the standard of driving is so poor. The motor car is not really progress why have roads full of big lorries and idiots with very little training, when we have an alternative of professional driver and happy relaxed people. Obviously trains would need a lot of investment to make it a nicer experience and trains to be on time. I think railways should be run as a non profit making organisation for the greater prosperity of our nation. Also i do understand it costs a lot more to build a road and damages the environment, railway cuttings are teaming with wildlife! The other idea i had was to extend the steam railway from Carmarthen as a tourist thing and see if a joint venture between steam train enthusiasts, Wales tourist board, and government can be achieved. I do understand there are a few building’s in the way now but surely a few people being displaced and compensated for the greater good of all the rest of us is worth it. Main places of contention are Coming into Aberystwyth, Lanfarian, village and the posh place just east of there. and the old halt at Carradog falls they failed to get the cycle path through these places.The main problem is these are people with a bit of money and would be harder to move than poor people!!! There is not much sign of the old line in Tregaron but is open fields now so wouldn’t be to much problem. don’t know about south of Lampeter. I don’t want to cry over spilt milk but why was this line not put in moth balls especially how many naves lost their lives building it!!!! The other interesting idea i heard was to do a mono rail. SORRY!!! for the lack of punctuation as i have the amazing practical ability of dyslexia unfortunately for me the world seems to run on paper work bureaucracy red tape!! and people that did well in their exams sucking in information without question just to crap it out at a later date.

  41. @ Mark Read

    There’s no reason why a cycle path could not be built alongside the rebuilt railway.

  42. Putting this vital link back into the Welsh rail system – making, again a significant “Figure of eight” network for mid-Wales – has seemed to me for some years a plain, economically valuable step.

    I well remember a journey form Carmarthen to Aberystwyth in 1954 – a well-used train, but even then very clearly lacking the post-war investment it needed. I walk past the demolished bridge at Lampeter these days, trusting that now, long after, good sense and good forward planning will prevail, and a wel-used line will be again a part of the community.

    Edmund ssf

  43. Putting this vital link back into the Welsh rail system – making, again a significant “Figure of eight” network for mid-Wales – has seemed to me for some years a plain, economically valuable step.

    I well remember a journey from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth in 1954 – a well-used train, but even then very clearly lacking the post-war investment it needed. I walk past the demolished bridge at Lampeter these days, trusting that now, long after, good sense and good forward planning will prevail, and a well-used line will be again a part of the community.

    Edmund ssf

  44. I was raised in Aberystwyth with family in Llandrindod and well remember travelling many times on the Aber to Carmarthen, and Moat Lane to Cardiff, via Builth, Three Cocks and Tallyllyn Junction lines. I much support aims to re-establish any of these lines closed by Beeching”s iniquitous cuts.
    However, I see a problem in that the Welsh Government’s interests end at Merthyr. Plenty of money for South Wales but little for non-Labour voting mid-Wales.

  45. @ Peter Evans

    In fairness, the First Minister has indicated his support for the project but, you’re right. it’s not the same as getting the money for it.

  46. Why can we not celebrate the fact that the lack of rail infrastructure,enhancer this area for people to enjoy.If people want normality they can have it in abundance elsewhere. leave us to be the natural jewel in the crown !

  47. Would love to see the missing link, great way for tourist to see wales.
    Not holding my breath with this labour government, they cannot get the m4 relief road right.
    Compulsory purchase the houses on top of the tunnels [ paying double the market value] put a cutting through with a bridge [using ] Welsh steel over the top

Comments are closed.

Also within Politics and Policy

Become an IWA Member

Fighting for a Wales that is 100% powered by renewables by 2035.

Advocating for a stronger Welsh media through our Media Audits.

Bringing through new, unheard writers with our New Voices Fund.

We’re working to make Wales better.
Your support can help us do more.