This was held on the morning of September 4th 2007 in Carno Community Centre. Four Assembly member’s took part: Gareth Jones, Chairman, Jeff Cuthbert, Alun Davies and Mick Bates (in place of Kirsty Williams) and evidence was presented by Tony Burton (for the petitioners), Phil Jackson (Powys County Council), Mike Gallop (Network Rail), Ian Baxter (Network Rail), Mike Bagshaw (Arriva Train Wales) and Tim James (Welsh Assembly Government Head of Rail). All parties also submitted written evidence in advance, apart from Tim James. To view the CSAG written evidence click HERE. A PDF transcript of the meeting can be viewed or downloaded by clicking HERE.
The 50 minute CSAG presentation was limited by time constraints, but succeeded in covering all the key subject areas. The first half examined the case for re-opening the station in isolation from passing loop issues and focussed on the methodology adopted to forecast passenger demand at the re-opened station (including abstraction from Caersws), the issue of platform length and the station cost forecast based on the £237k Beauly station in Scotland.
The second half considered the benefit of relocating the Talerddig passing loop at Carno, both to the overall Cambrian line timetable (see below) and in reducing delays to services due to a Carno station stop. It was pointed out that retention of the loop at Talerddig would require the proposed Welshpool “dynamic” loop to be extended by an additional 2 km, in all probability making this option more expensive after the additional track maintenance costs have been factored in. Finally it was noted that only one platform need be provided beside the loop to enable alternate trains to serve the station – a solution which would eliminate any need for a footbridge and considerably reduce the cost.
The Network Rail presentation was brief, but elicited a number of questions from AM’s on the rôle of the Cambrian Line, the £5 m Network Rail cost estimate for Carno station and the basis for Network Rail’s objections to a short platform station. It emerged that there was perceived to be a safety risk with the latter because it is estimated that the conductor-guard would open all the doors by mistake (rather than the door opposite the platform) once every 7,500 stops, with the risk that any passengers attempting to alight at the wrong doors would suffer injury. This despite the fact that only 27 alighting accidents per annum were recorded for the whole UK railway system from 1996 to 2000 at a time when many services were still operated by slam door trains!
Network Rail’s final word was that they “would take a lot of convincing to open any new stations on the Cambrian Line.”
The Arriva Trains Wales representative was closely questioned on the impact of the loop location on overall punctuality and conceded that Carno would be the better location.
The whole transcript is available on the National Assembly for Wales website.
Commenting on the Enterprise and Learning Committee hearing, Tony Burton said: “This was the first time that a committee of the National Assembly had held a special hearing into a petition presented to the Assembly and I felt privileged to be part of it. The hearing provided an excellent opportunity for us to argue the case for the re-opening of Carno station and the parallel relocation of the passing loop. We are very grateful that the committee came to Carno to take evidence, and look forward to seeing their recommendations. Unfortunately, the Deputy First Minister has pre-empted the committee’s deliberations by deciding on the passing loop locations beforehand. No evidence was presented to the meeting demonstrating that a station stop at Carno could be fitted into the hourly service timetable with the loop remaining at Talerddig. We therefore feel that the welcome avenue for influencing Assembly decisions provided by the new petitions system has been lost at the first hurdle, with the risk that the petitions system itself is brought into disrepute.”
Benefit to Cambrian line punctuality of loop relocation at Carno
Carno Staton Action Group put forward evidence that an important factor in the Cambrian line’s poor punctuality is the current passing loop location at Talerddig, which is too far to the West. Trains have insufficient time to make the round trip from the loop to Birmingham and back in the 4 hours required by the timetable and, as a result, westbound trains typically arrive at Talerddig 5 to 10 minutes late. However, because of 5 minutes recovery time in each direction between Machynlleth and Aberystwyth, 5 or 10 minutes lateness can usually be recouped on the run to Aberystwyth and back to Talerddig. Consequently eastbound trains usually arrive at Talerddig on time and are delayed there waiting for the late running westbound train. The current timetable imbalance is exemplified by the difference in the overall average speeds on the Cambrian line required East and West of Talerddig – 49 mph and 36 mph respectively, inclusive of stops.
Mr Mike Bagshaw of Arriva Trains Wales endorsed the view that the passing loop at Talerddig is too far West for the train timetable and stated that Carno would be a better location.
(1) The Enterprise and Learning Committee of the National Assembly held a hearing in Carno on September 4th into the station re-opening petition. The petition “calls upon the Welsh Assembly Government to re-open Carno Station and end the wasteful practice of stopping trains outside Talerddig with no passenger benefit.” The Committee took evidence from the Welsh Assembly Government, Network Rail, Arriva Trains Wales, Powys County Council and the Carno Station Action Group.
(2) On August 8th, the Deputy First Minister, Mr Ieuan Wyn Jones, announced enhancements of the passing loops at Talerddig and Welshpool and the construction of a new passing loop at Dyfi Junction to enable train frequency to be increased in the future.
(3) Network Rail had shortlisted Carno and Talerddig as alternative passing loop sites in the GRIP 3 phase of their feasibility study completed in November into the infrastructure requirements for the hourly service. Network Rail proposed further detailed consideration of the Carno option for the final, GRIP 4 phase of the study, but the option was jettisoned. CSAG have yet to receive a satisfactory explanation.
(4) If the passing loop were relocated at Carno, the round trip running time from the passing loop to Birmingham and back would be shortened by about five minutes. This extra leeway would make the train service more reliable and, in particular, reduce the need to turn trains back at Wolverhampton. This has been a regular occurrence for about two years now, and causes great inconvenience to passengers, especially the elderly and infirm.
(5) Retaining the loop at Talerddig will entail the laying of two and a half miles of extra track South of Welshpool to extend the existing Welshpool passing loop. This is required in order to achieve the required 30 minute running time between passing places, and will cost about £5 million on its own! This extra track will have to be maintained, so the Talerddig decision is likely to be more costly in the end.