Pie Corner

Passengers leaving a train at Fishguard & Goodwick stations
Well established: Fishguard & Goodwick station is no longer the newest in Wales
Fishguard & Goodwick station was opened on 14 May 2012, but is no longer the newest railway station in Wales.

At least three new stations have opened in the past three years, as follows:

While it is undoubtedly nice to see continued investment in public transport, all three of the above are in the Cardiff area. The latter two are both on the Ebbw Vale line, which currently only has trains to Cardiff, and ‘Energlyn and Churchill Park’ is on the Rhymney Line of the Cardiff valleys network. The opening of Ebbw Vale Town represents the extension of the Ebbw Vale line, while the other two stations are on existing track.

Pye Corner station nameboard
Pye Corner nameboard. Photo by Steve Gregory
So, just like the UK as a whole, is the south-east of Wales getting more than its fair share of investment? Certainly, the Ebbw Vale line has an hourly service while the Fishguard branch has a 5 hour gap between trains in the afternoon. Granted, the population served by the Ebbw Vale line is much greater, so it warrants a more-frequent service than Fishguard, in fact Ebbw Vale could do with having an hourly service to Newport in addition to its current Cardiff service, but Fishguard’s 5hr gap (and near-total lack of Sunday trains) is a joke. I suppose the first phase of the Ebbw Vale line (Cardiff to Ebbw Vale Parkway), which opened in 2008, has the advantage that it got in first. By 2011, when Fishguard got its local trains back, the last of the class 150 units intended for the aborted ValleyLines train lengthening project was apparently used up.

Arriva Trains Wales Class 150 at Cardiff Central
Class 150 ‘Sprinter’ at Cardiff Central
Surplus DMUs, available for introducing additional services, are now like hen’s teeth. At present then, new stations seem to be the ‘easy option’ for the government to show support for the railways, and on the suburban network arround Cardiff passengers are probably used to frequent stops. Adding additional calls into long-distance regional services would likely have more of an impact on the perceived journey times for existing services.

I suppose it is not entirely fair to claim that Cardiff is getting all the investment. Sure, the Ebbw Vale service goes to Cardiff not Newport, and Wales’ second city (Swansea) has been completely left out of the ‘South-East Wales Metro’ proposals, but the Cambrian and Heart Of Wales lines have seen service improvements, introduced alongside Ebbw Vale Town Arriva Trains Wales’ May 2015 timetables. The Welsh Government appear to have asked Arriva Trains Wales to perform a minor miracle, service improvements with no additional trains to run them, and supprisingly Arriva seem to have delivered.

Pye Corner station under construction
Pye Corner station under construction. Photo by Robin Drayton
Additional services to/from Aberystwyth have apparently been acheived by reducing the time available for maintainance of a class 158 unit at Machynlleth depot by a few hours, and by reducing one train in each direction from four carriages to two between Machynlleth and Shrewsbury. However, they have not been able to provide the full all-day hourly service that the Welsh Government once promised would be launched in 2011. The Heart Of Wales Line (HOWL) has gained an additional weekday morning service, but not over the full length of the line.
Aberystwyth station
Still waiting for hourly: the recently refurbished Aberystwyth station
This appears to be primarily motiviated by the aim of providing an arrival in Swansea for 9am commuters, with the morning Pembroke/Fishguard train from Cardiff (two units which detach at Whitland) reduced to a single unit and the Fishguard service now starting at Swansea (and ommiting the call at Carmarthen) allowing that unit to work the new morning HOWL short-working (from Llandovery if I recall correctly) before going off to Fishguard.

Perhaps the worst compromise is what has happened at the north end of the HOWL. I believe the commuter train into Shrewsbury now starts from Llandrindod rather than Swansea and this has had to be retimed to run earlier in order that HOWL services can interwork with the Crewe-Shrewsbury shuttle to resource the four full-length HOWL workings over the rest of the day. This has the commuters complaining they have to get up earlier. If these really are the only reductions made to facilitate this service I’m really quite impressed (except for that last one about Shrewsbury commuters) but I am concerned that the shortage of DMUs is a “butter scraped over too much bread” suituation.

So, what do you think, is the south-east is getting all the pie? And can somebody find us some additional rolling stock, please?

Toxic Ballot

Election boards for three parties in Aberystwyth
Safe hands??? Three of the six parties standing in Ceredigion at this election have their boards out near Aberystwyth.
May 7th, 2015, a highly unpredictable general election. What colour of government will we have, and will they command a majority? Some of the Labour leader’s comments suggest a minority Labour government is a real possibility.

The media sometimes describes marginal constituencies as ‘key election battlegrounds’, but can UK general elections be accurately described as wars? Perhaps the media have a point since many of the main parties, while talking sense on other issues, have dangerous policies. Some could undermine the long-term future of life on earth.

Let’s start with Plaid Cymru. Their manifesto states that they oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This is a sensible position since a component of TTIP is ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) which could allow companies to sue governments for impacting profits. For example, it may encourage privatisation of the NHS or allow tobacco firms to sue governments for banning smoking in public places. In fact, most of Plaid’s manifesto sounds positive at first reading. More worrying is what is missing. Most importantly, they are alarmingly vague about tackling climate change. They promise targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but fail to state those targets. As the biggest threat currently facing life on earth, climate change requires a more robust response. Sorry Plaid.

The environment has been largely neglected in the television coverage too. The sole ‘environment debate’, shown in the middle of the day on 20th April, on the BBC’s ‘Daily Politics’ program, was disappointing. The Liberal Democrat comments on their record in government were the most interesting part of the program. A significant increase in electricity generated from renewable sources was claimed, before they admitted that transport and heating were lagging behind in terms of emission reduction.

Which brings us to transport. I haven’t downloaded the Conservative party manifesto, but they are in favour of airport expansion and plan to spend £15bn on major road upgrades. Surely that is incentivising people to do the wrong thing; they clearly have their priorities wrong. Plaid Cymru are pressing for major road expansion too, but at least they don’t back the (Labour) Welsh Government’s plans to build a second M4 motorway around Newport.

Labour’s Westminster manifesto is not reassuring regarding transport (road and airport expansion look likely) but elsewhere they do claim to recognise the importance of tackling climate change. The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) have analysed non-transport aspects of several manifestos for sustainability, and the Conservative’s score was frighteningly poor. Labour does better, and the Liberal Democrats better still. Unfortunately the LibDems have not ruled out a ‘deal’ with the Conservatives, so votes for the LibDems could lead to a good outcome (eg. a LibDem-Labour coalition) or a mediocre one (another LibDem-Conservative coalition). Either would be hugely preferable to a Conservative majority.

Welsh Mountains
Green and pleasant land? Not if some of the parties can help it.
The Tories are bad but, terrifyingly, an even worse option has emerged: UKIP. UKIP have made their stance plain on television: rather than accepting the challenge, they deny that climate change is human-influenced. Even if you think the scientists are wrong, surely it is better to take action to reduce emissions so that, on the off-chance that the scientists are right, we don’t suffer the consequences? And the consequences of getting it wrong will be dire. Maybe this really is war…

I’ve not researched the SNP’s policies but apparently they have not admitted defeat on the issue of independence. They talk about leaving the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Island’, so are threatening to destroy Great Britain. People don’t describe themselves as UK-ish. We are Welsh, Scottish, English or British, or a combination such as Welsh-British. In Doctor Who, The Doctor (David Tennant) once said: “Only Britain’s Great”. Please Scotland, you can have all the devolution you like but stop trying to rip our great nation apart.

Perhaps now you see why this election is a minefield. Returning to climate change, you’d think the Green Party would be streets ahead; and they promise to end the national major roads programme so on that basis they are. They promise to stop airport expansion etc. and come closer than any other party to what is needed to tackle climate change, but are not bomb-proof. Their own manifesto quotes the Royal Society (scientists): “global population growth needs to be slowed and stabilised, but this should by no means be coercive” but apparently offers nothing that would curb population growth; instead they propose increasing child benefit. Would removing child benefit if a woman who already has more than one child gets pregnant again be ‘coercive’?