Back in the 60s, the infamous Dr Beeching wielded his “axe” on rural train networks and over 4,000 route miles were lost. It was justified on grounds of efficiency and saving money, but the cost is still being felt
An economic cost to rural business, as trading shifted to bigger, better networked towns
A social cost to all the communities who lost access to public transport
Not only that but, whenever decent public transport is axed, our reliance on private cars grows. Spaces where children once played become dangerous, air pollution increases, and the local streets where we used to meet in passing to chat or do business, fill up with even more cars.
A proposal for further cuts in the ‘80s was rejected and that is one reason why we still have the Heart of Wales (Old Central Wales) Line.
A Place in People’s Hearts
Ask around in Mid Wales and the Marches and you will find that the Heart of Wales train line has a special place in people’s hearts. It’s not just a valuable piece of proper sustainable infrastructure, it’s also become a bit of our heritage … taking us through the most beautiful countryside, to stations that are characterful and unspoilt, connecting people and place, past and present. But there aren’t many trains and the timetable doesn’t work well for a long day out or for people travelling to and from work. So there is a long section of the line that is underused. Financially speaking, if Beeching were around today, he would have his eye on it.
David Edwards takes a pragmatic approach, acknowledging that in the current economic climate, keeping the line open is unlikely to be justified on heritage grounds alone. However, by 2018, when the existing franchise agreement comes up for review, The Heart of Wales Travelers Association and the Line Forum expect to be able to prove that the existing service needs to be developed rather than cut, and they hope to show that local communities want to keep their line and to develop its service. This is about me, you, local shops and businesses, local councillors … everyone … showing their support. If you want to get more involved, why not join HOWLTA, to help work for the future of this line?
We need more trains, to work with people’s schedules and meet demand
The Heart of Wales forum and travellers association are therefore working with Assembly Members, MPs and other supporters including Wales’ Commissioner for Sustainable Futures, to secure support for this visionary and truly sustainable development process. David Edwards points out that the line was built to provide a practical service for rural communities: first freight, then public transport and tourism. It’s the reason that Llandrindod and the other spa towns boomed in the nineteenth century. Why not again now?
“What we really need to make proper use of the route” David said, “is a two hourly service. And we are working to define ways of delivering this, with a strong emphasis on local community and local businesses. It has to make economic sense.”
120 miles linking rural communities
In modern cities, regular public transport ispart of the economy. It’s used by everyone from business folk and commuters to students, shoppers, people on low incomes with no car and people on big incomes with no wish to take the car. In fact if it is closed temporarily, even for just a few hours, there is a knock on negative effect for all kinds of business. Trains provide a service to the community and in this respect their economic viability is by no means restricted to ticket sales. Reliable and regular transport has proved itself vital to a good economy time and time again … from taking people to conferences and meetings, bringing visitors into town, etc. Could the Heart of Wales line perform the same kind of role in a rural Wales kind of way? David thinks it could, but not with the current timetable.
At times of economic pressure public money is hard to come by and policy makers look to make savings. But through local economic networks, the Forum for Heart of Wales Line hopes to devise a new operational model … maybe co-operatively owned even … that will support local businesses. It will need everyone’s support. But with the right decisions now, Heart of Wales could once again become a cornerstone of local life and business, not just part of a sustainable transport network across the region, but a real life working national treasure and a jolly sight better for the environment than more roads, bigger roads, faster roads and towns choked up with cars.
As Gustavo Petro, Mayor of Bogota in Columbia, said recently
“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”
The Heart of Wales Forum is the Community Rail Partnership for the line. You can link to Heart of Wales Line on Facebook
or Twitter @HeartofWales1