Transport Minister Edwina Hart has confirmed Arriva Trains Wales and Network Rail have broadly agreed with an independent report recommending opening a station at Carno in Powys. The BBC have done a News report along with a short video interviewing Jeremy Barnes, Clem Richards, and Russell George AM. Click HERE to see the full article on the BBC news website.
Following discussions with the Minister, Edwina Hart, and senior officials at the Welsh Assembly Government, Carno Station Action Group has been asked to carry out a local consultation later this month over the options for siting the proposed station in Carno. Jeremy Barnes, chairman of the group, said “We are delighted that the Welsh Assembly Government has asked us to carry out this consultation – another step forward in our campaign.”
Mr Barnes went on to say “We aim to knock on every door in the village and to contact residents living in outlying houses.” A consultation document has been prepared setting out the options for a new platform and shelter at the former station site and a new site at the other end of the village.
Members of the group are currently in detailed discussions with officials over the costs and benefits of the station. They point to the contrast between the number of stations opened in South Wales in recent years and the absence of new stations in Mid Wales. The proposal for a station in Carno continues to receive support from Assembly Members of all parties.
Station car park
First the good news – the Environment Agency wrote to the Chairman last month advising against the raising of the car park. An extract from their letter is reproduced below:
“It was concluded that the raising of the car park is unlikely to be an appropriate flood risk mitigation measure, in this instance. When considering flood risk, any raising of this land could potentially impact on flood flow routes which are currently controlled by the existing railway embankment to the north and road bridge to the south. This may have impacts on flood risk elsewhere which should always be avoided. Therefore, our advice would be that no ground raising takes place from a flood risk perspective.”
This is excellent news, as not raising the car park will reduce the station cost by about a quarter of a million pounds to under £1.5 m and, as a result, significantly improving the station Benefit Cost Ratio.
Station funding conundrum
As was made clear at the public meeting in November, TraCC, the Regional Transport Consortium, want to build the station but have no funding to do so. This is because the Welsh Government gave them no funding to match their new responsibility for Regional rail infrastructure.
TraCC met with the Minister on March 5th to try to clarify matters and at the next Board meeting on March 23rd Chair Trevor Roberts announced that TraCC now “knows where it is going” on the funding of Regional Rail Schemes.
Accordingly Cllrs Rachel Davies, Michael Williams and Gwilym Evans wrote to the TraCC Chair in April asking him to set out his new understanding of the funding arrangements, but no reply has yet been received.
Judging from the Minutes of the TraCC Management Group meeting on 31 May, the Management Group itself is not yet fully clear about “where it is going” on the funding of rail infrastructure. Minute 11.2 stated: “The Management Group reaffirmed its position that responsibility for rail schemes remained somewhat unclear and that currently proposed schemes were unaffordable within existing regional transport grant funding allocations.”
Carno Station in the RTP – Now you see it, now you don’t
At the TraCC Board meeting on March 23rd, we had sight of the TraCC 5 year Regional Transport Plan 2011/2 – 2015/6 (Final 10th February 2012). This includes £425 k worth of “development work” expenditure in 2014/5 and 2015/6 followed by £1.7 m for station construction in 2016/7 – all with the caveat “Rail projects funding is uncertain and therefore not confirmed as items within the RTP”.
The TraCC 5 year Regional Transport Plan 2011/2 – 2015/6 (Final 10th February 2012) also appeared in a briefing document distributed to the new TraCC Board before their meeting on July 13th, but in this version all reference to rail schemes had disappeared.
Proposed meeting with TraCC
As TraCC had not briefed us about the plans for Carno – albeit tentative – in the earlier issue of the 10th February 2012 version of the 5 year Plan, CSAG decided that a formal meeting with TraCC was long overdue and in May asked Simon Thomas AM to convene such a meeting involving other AMs as well.
New TraCC Chair is from Powys
Following the May council elections, chairmanship of TraCC has rotated to Powys and Cllr Barry Thomas has been elected to chair. He attended the June 22nd CSAG meeting before his election to the TraCC chair and was clearly interested in the station proposal.
More recently Cllr Thomas has asked Steve Holdaway, a PCC officer, to arrange a meeting with us “to address your concerns even if we are unable to resolve them”. It is hoped that a date for this meeting will be set shortly. Our Chairman has made it clear that we would like our local and regional AMs to be invited.
More on the funding conundrum
Clearly our main obstacle is funding. At our request, the Chair of the Enterprise and Business Committee, Nick Ramsay, wrote to the Minister for Local Government and Communities, Carl Sargeant, posing a number of questions on this issue. The Minister duly replied, but side stepped one crucial question, so we still do not know the Minister’s justification for transferring responsibility for regional rail infrastructure to TraCC without parallel transfer of the requisite funding stream. Although we have pointed this out to Mr Ramsay, he is not optimistic about being able to get any further on this issue.
Despite this, there has been a much more hopeful statement from the Minister himself in the Senedd recently. In reply to a question from Elin Jones he said, in relation to Carno and Bow Street stations, that “if this is a scheme that TraCC believes is one of its priorities, it should apply to me for the appropriate funding.” Over to TraCC, then?
The Action Group
There have been some important changes in the Action Group since June. Cllr Graham Jones, the new councillor for Trefeglwys, has joined the group in place of Cllr Gwilym Evans. We would like to thank Gwilym for his long standing support and we wish him a long and contented retirement. Also the new councillor for Llanbrynmair, Dai Jones, has signalled that he wants to support the campaign and has joined our group as well. These are both welcome developments.
There have also been some changes in members’ rôles. Jeremy Barnes has taken over as chairman since Tony Burton’s move to London and Barry Long has taken on the tasks of Secretary and Press Officer. Bernard Evans has agreed to be Progress Chaser in addition to sending out Supporters’ Newsletters. Alan Humphries has taken over as Treasurer from Myra Channell, to whom our thanks are due, and Rob Ritchie and Pippa Scott have taken over responsibility for the deployment of the “Gorsaf Carno Nawr!” sign. If anyone else would like to help (and help is certainly needed as the action hots up), please contact Jeremy on 420712.
Hopes for a new station in Carno were given a major boost on Monday November 14th, 2011, when a capacity crowd in Carno Community Centre were told the station could be opened within three years. About two hundred people packed into the hall to hear a presentation of the station Business Case by Chris Wilson, co-ordinator of TraCC, the Regional Transport Consortium.
Mr Wilson explained that the station Business Case had been assessed in accordance with Welsh Transport Appraisal Guidance (WelTAG) and had predicted that
- a new station would cost £1.7 m (including 50% allowance for “optimism bias”)
- it would attract about 14,000 trips per year
- the ratio of Benefits to Costs (the Benefit/Cost Ratio) would be 1.15, assuming no loss of through journeys due to the 2 minute delay to through passengers
Summing up, he noted that, although public transport provision in rural areas was vital for social and environmental reasons, it was often difficult to justify in strict financial terms, because of low population levels. However, in the case of Carno station, a relatively high level of demand had been predicted, resulting in a more than acceptable Benefit/Cost Ratio.
Following the Business Case presentation, TraCC chairman, Councillor Trevor Roberts, told the audience, which included local Assembly Member, Russell George, that TraCC were fully behind the opening of Carno station and that, subject to resolution of funding with the Welsh Government, he could see no reason why the station could not open within three years.
The full title of the business case report is “Carno and Bow Street Stations WelTAG 1+/2 Assessment”. WelTAG is included in the title as the assessment was carried out according to Welsh Transport Appraisal Guidance (WelTAG) The report is available on the TraCC website.
A joint delegation of Carno and Bow Street station campaigners travelled to Cardiff on November 8th and met with local and regional AMs to brief them before they, in turn, met the Minister, Carl Sargeant the following day.
In the afternoon, the delegation met with Welsh Government civil servants. The photograph below shows members of Carno Station Action Group with Councillor Paul Hinge of Bow Street in the Senedd prior to this meeting.
The meeting helped to clarify the relationship between the National Transport Plan (NTP) and the Regional Transport Plans (RTPs). The delegation learned that the NTP is not the sum of the RTPs as some had understood. Instead, the NTP contains projects of National significance while the RTPs contain projects of Regional significance. This is of key relevance to the station plans, as new stations are considered to be schemes of Regional rather than National significance. Accordingly it falls to the Regional Transport Consortia to prioritise new stations rather than to the Welsh Government.
The rapid rise in fuel prices over the last few years considerably strengthens the financial case for the opening of new railway stations, according to research by Carno Station Action Group. The business cases for Carno and Bow Street stations recently completed by Capita Symonds for TraCC are founded on Department of Transport advice that the real price of petrol – ie the retail price corrected for inflation – rises at only 0.2% a year, whereas in fact it has gone up at an average of 3% a year over the last nine years.
CSAG chairman Tony Burton said: “The future price of petrol obviously has a significant effect on the fuel cost savings enjoyed by drivers who transfer to the train. Based on the £1.30/litre price of petrol in 2011 and a conservative 2% annual rise of petrol prices into the future, we calculate that the fuel savings gained by users of Carno and Bow Street stations over their notional 60 year lives would be at least half as much again compared with those estimated in the Capita Symonds report. In the case of Carno, this alone would raise the station financial benefit by one fifth.”
On the cost side, Carno Station Action Group point to the use of unrealistically high station operating costs as detracting from the station business cases. A figure of £35,000 per year has been used for each station – enough to employ a full-time stationmaster at each, when the stations are intended to be unstaffed! By comparison, the business case for the proposed Energlyn station near Caerphilly, which is to have two platforms, quotes an operating cost of only £23,500 per year. No evidence has been provided to support the £35,000 per year station operating cost figure and CSAG believe that the cost should be half this at most, in view of the small size and rural situation of each station.
The value for money of transport projects is measured by the ratio of the benefits to the costs – the Benefit Cost Ratio. If proper allowance were made for rising petrol prices and a realistic station operating cost of £17,500 per annum adopted, the Benefit Cost Ratio for Carno station would rise from 1.15 to 1.60. Tony Burton commented “These figures speak for themselves. We look to TraCC and our elected Assembly Members to set out the case to the Minister, Carl Sergeant, as he prepares his revised National Transport Plan. The inclusion of Carno and Bow Street stations in the Plan would clearly demonstrate the Welsh Government’s commitment to sustainable transport.”
The detailed Business Case for Carno Station was completed by Capita Symonds at the end of May and approved by the TraCC Board for submission to the Welsh Assembly Government. The TraCC Press Release issued on July 8th, 2011, is reproduced below.
TRACC PRESS RELEASE
At its meeting on 25th May, the TraCC Board approved the WelTAG (transport appraisal) Report on the proposals to open two new railway stations at Bow Street (near Aberystwyth, Ceredigion) and Carno (Powys). The transport appraisal work follows successful petitioning of the National Assembly for Wales by representatives of the local community in Carno (2007) and the completion of the TraCC Rail Utilisation Study by Capita Symonds (2010), the latter identifying Bow Street also as a potential location for a station. In the case of Carno, TraCC undertook to complete the business case initially developed in draft form by the Carno Station Action Group (CSAG). The final WelTAG Report is considered robust, both in terms of meeting industry standards on assessment, and in terms of addressing issues raised by local community groups. The Report demonstrates a high Benefit Cost Ratio of 2.2 for a Bow Street station and in the case of Carno, the corresponding Benefit Cost Ratio is lower because of the smaller population, but, as with Bow Street, the report identifies important additional social benefits, such as improving access to employment and reducing social exclusion.Having worked closely with representatives of the two local communities, TraCC has now requested a meeting to present the final Report to Carl Sargeant, the Minister for Local Government and Communities and seeks for both new stations to be included in the Welsh Government’s Rail Forward Programme.
Councillor Trevor Roberts, Chair of TraCC adds: ‘TraCC has responded positively to the request of the National Assembly’s Enterprise and Learning Committee and has completed the WelTAG Report. The final Report clearly demonstrates that there is a strong case for the Welsh Government and Rail Industry in Wales to include plans for these two new stations in their future investment programmes and I would urge them to do so at their earliest opportunity.’
Members of Carno Station Action Group were delighted to learn at the end of April 2010 that the detailed study of the case for Carno Station – WelTAG Stage 2 – is to go ahead shortly. Carno station performed well among the various improvement schemes considered in the recently completed Rail Utilisation Study commissioned by TraCC, the Regional Transport Consortium for Mid-Wales, with the result that TraCC recommended that it go forward for detailed appraisal.
In accepting TraCC’s recommendation, senior officers from the Welsh Assembly Government attending a meeting in Newtown on April 27th said that the detailed study would start as soon as possible, and be carried out over the summer. They added that they would like to see a dialogue between CSAG and the consultants carrying out the appraisal, to take advantage of the work CSAG had already done. Once the study was finished, the Welsh Assembly Government would be in a position to decide whether to include the station in its Rail Forward programme.
Following this, the Deputy First Minister has written to the Chair of the Enterprise and Learning Committee, Gareth Jones, to update him on progress with the Carno Station business case, the development of which was the Committee’s key recommendation, after its hearing in Carno in September 2007. Ieuan Wyn Jones wrote: “The next step now is to move into a more detailed business case, referred to as WelTAG Stage Two, which will provide sufficient information to inform an investment decision in the future. This more detailed business case is about to start and should be concluded during autumn 2010.”
Carno Station Action Group Chairman, Tony Burton, commented “This is a real step forward and the group is very happy to see this work going ahead at long last. TraCC and the Welsh Assembly Government are to be congratulated on their swift response to the Rail Utilisation Study. Although there are still several hurdles to cross, it seems that the group’s optimism, as expressed by the mobile “Gorsaf Carno ‘nawr” sign in the village, has been justified after all.”
Carno residents joined members of the Action Group and Assembly Member Mick Bates to celebrate this important milestone at a coffee morning held in Carno Community Centre on Saturday May 8th.
Capita Symonds completed their Mid Wales Rail Utilisation Study for TraCC in April 2010. This considered a range of potential improvements to rail services and facilities, including the provision of new stations. Each scheme was evaluated on a common basis, with an outline business case being developed in accordance with Stage 1 of the Welsh Transport Appraisal Guidance (WelTAG).
The WelTAG Stage 1 appraisal of Carno station predicted that the new station would generate about 6300 new trips per annum, significantly more than the figure predicted in the Carno Transport Appraisal (3700). The capital cost of a new station with a 97 m long platform suitable for 4 car trains was estimated at £0.95 m, which is in line with the £1.0 m figure assumed in the Carno Transport Appraisal.
The appraisal included an estimate of financial Benefit Cost Ratio in terms of the projected fare revenue divided by the sum of station capital and operating costs, with all revenues and costs discounted back to a common datum year. However, application of an uplift of 50% to the station capital cost – in order to account for “optimism bias” – reduced the Benefit Cost Ratio to 0.75. The additional revenue accruing to Carno station from existing rail journeys abstracted from Caersws was not included.
The Petitioners for the re-opening of Carno Station travelled to the National Assembly on June 24th to mark the second anniversary of the handover of their petition to the Presiding Officer and to express their frustration at the delay to the completion of the station business case.
Members of the National Assembly Enterprise and Learning Committee met the delegation from Carno informally at an event at the Senedd yesterday hosted by Montgomeryshire AM Mick Bates. The Assembly Members heard how the completion of the formal business case for the re-opening of Carno Station called for by the committee had been stalled by official inaction over the past year.
Chairman of the Carno Station Action Group, Tony Burton, said “There was tremendous progress in the first year after we handed in the petition. The Enterprise and Learning Committee came to Carno to hold a hearing and concluded that a formal business case should be developed. The Deputy First Minister endorsed this and pointed to TraCC, the Mid Wales Transport Consortium, as the body to carry out the work. The WAG Head of Rail said they would look to see Carno as a priority within the 5 year Regional Transport Plan, and encouraged our group to contribute to the business case by providing evidence to TraCC. So we got busy and prepared a draft over the first six months of 2008, submitting it to TraCC on July 1st”
The 62 page document, entitled the Draft Carno Transport Appraisal, was prepared along the lines of the Welsh Transport Appraisal Guidance (WelTAG), as recommended by WAG.
Since then, nothing has happened. TraCC have done no work to complete the formal document that the Enterprise and Learning Committee called for, citing lack of funding for consultants to assess and amend the Action Group’s draft.
The petitioners told the AM’s they felt that the powers-that-be had let them down badly. Tony Burton said “The Petition system itself is a fine innovation by the National Assembly, but it means little if there is no follow-through from the various branches of government involved. We look to the Deputy First Minister to break the logjam and get the business case moving again. It needs to be finished in time to provide input into the Regional Transport Plan 5 year programme – ie by late autumn.”
The AM’s present agreed that the current situation was quite unsatisfactory. Gareth Jones (Chair of the Enterprise and Learning Committee) was clearly distressed to learn that his committee’s call for a formal business case – endorsed by WAG – had so far come to naught and promised to take the matter up with the Deputy First Minister to try and get things moving. Other AM’s present proposed that the Enterprise and Learning Committee should invite TraCC to a scrutiny session to answer questions. It was recognised that this needed to be quite soon, if there was to be any chance of getting the Business Case completed in time to be an input to the final version of the Regional Transport Plan (RTP) in September.
The group had a separate meeting with Nicholas Bourne, leader of the Conservative Group in the Assembly and a Regional AM for Mid and West Wales. He said the campaign had his full support and that he would write to the Deputy First Minister on the issue. He also said he was meeting Ray Quant, the TraCC Chairman, in early July to discuss the delay to the Business Case.
Later in the afternoon, the group met with Tim James, who gave evidence as WAG Head of Rail at the E&LC Scrutiny session on November 14th, 2007. He has recently returned to WAG as Director of Integrated Public Transport. He confirmed that WAG had asked TraCC to lead the process of developing the Carno Station Business Case and expressed disappointment at TraCC’s failure to take CSAG’s draft document forward.
The group asked whether, in view of TraCC’s lack of resources, WAG officials could carry out the work needed to complete the business case, but he said they were suffering from staff shortages. However, he offered to arrange a meeting between WAG, TraCC and CSAG to chart a way forward and this meeting has since been fixed for August 6th.