North-South Rail Links - a new approach?

Last week, I received a copy of a fascinating proposal that would provide a railway transport system within Wales that would connect North and South Wales.

Its main premise is that, no matter how much we desire it, the construction of an effective, modern North-South road link would cost many billions of pounds which are far beyond the budget of the Assembly.

The proposal, written by the community group “Ein Blaenau”, goes on to state that a viable North-South rail link, as an alternative to a national road link, is needed in Wales, not only for transport and mobility reasons, but also for social, economic and cultural reasons to create a sense of ‘one country’.

More relevantly, given the increasing need to decrease CO2 emissions and the output of carbon as EU legislation begins to kick in and oil becomes more expensive, any such improved rail network could also be used to for the transport of freight across the country, thus reducing the number of lorries on our roads.
So what is the potential route?

The train could start on the normal route along the North Wales coast. It would then, at Rhyl, use the old Clwyd Valley Line as the preferred option for accessing mid-Wales, going through Denbigh, Ruthin, Corwen and Welshpool before reaching Newtown for the Cambrian Coast Line feeder.

From this, it could go onwards to Llanidloes, Rhayader and onto to Builth (for the Central Wales connection). It would then go down to Talyllyn Junction, Dowlais (for the Heads of Valleys) and eventually arriving in Cardiff. Most of this would use existing railway lines, although there would have to be a new three mile tunnel to connect two valleys either side of the Berwyns.

For North West Wales, the benefits are considerable, as many towns and villages in North Wales are within reach of Bangor, Llandudno or Holyhead for the commencement of the journey. For North East Wales, it enhances accessibility to St Asaph, Denbigh, Ruthin, Corwen, and reduces road congestion and provides a commuter and shopping alternative. It would also ensure that Cardiff becomes easily accessible by rail from Aberystwyth, and stations along the Cambrian Coast line and, of course, will attract tourists from South Wales to these areas.

Of course, some will say that this type of project is just not possible, but it is worth noting that a similarly ambitious scheme is now taking place in Ireland. The re-opening of the ‘Western Corridor’ is very similar to this ‘All-Wales’ rail proposal in that it involves approximately the same amount of line re-opening and goes through remote regions to connect them to vibrant centres.

This is a pioneering and inspired idea that could gain much public support and deliver many benefits to Wales. Given the lack of vision that our politicians are often accused of, I would urge them to look up from their TV screens in the Assembly Chamber and to commission a full feasibility study into this plan.

With the Assembly is about to spend £1 billion on plans for a bypass around Newport (to alleviate rush hour traffic) and for upgrading the Heads of the Valleys road, surely this public money would be better spent on developing a coherent rail network around Wales.

It is time the Assembly lived up to its green credentials and supported a scheme that would not only bring sustainable economic benefits to our nation but, more importantly would provide the links between North and South Wales that would finally enable Wales to unite, in transport terms, as a nation.

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