Carno, along with many villages on the Cambrian Line from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth, had its own station until the Beeching closures of the Sixties. The station at Carno consisted of two platforms, a substantial station building and a passing loop and was located at the West end of the mile long settlement, beside the level crossing on the minor road to Cefn Coch. There is now no station between Caersws and Machynlleth, making this, at 22 miles, the longest stretch of line without an intermediate station in Wales. The next longest stretch is the 16 miles between Clarbeston Road and Fishguard in Pembrokeshire. For comparison, the average station spacing on the Cambrian Coast line is 2.2 miles – one tenth the distance from Caersws to Machynlleth. On the Heart of Wales line, which is probably more sparsely populated than the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth line, the average spacing is 3.7 miles.
There is now a local consensus that the capital asset of the railway line passing through the village is being wasted as long as the trains pass through without stopping. Government policy is now to encourage the use of public transport for environmental reasons, and the re-opening of Carno station is seen as way of providing the locality with an attractive alternative to the car, particularly for longer journeys. There is strong support for the re-opening plan within the community, as has been demonstrated at a number of well-attended public meetings.
This document has been drawn up by the Carno Station Action Group, which is affiliated to the Carno Community Council and has been campaigning on its behalf for the re-opening of Carno Station for several years.
2. BENEFITS OF A STATION AT CARNO
2.1 User Benefits
The train is a safe, comfortable, and fast means of travel. The train journey time to Newtown would be 15 minutes – less than that safely achievable by car and half the time taken by the existing bus service. Shrewsbury would be 55 minutes away by rail and Birmingham 1 hour 50 minutes.
Although there is a station 6 miles away at Caersws, the inconvenience of getting there is a considerable disincentive. Motorists are reluctant to leave their vehicles at the unattended car park overnight for fear of vandalism and theft, while those without a car are discouraged by the almost complete lack of connecting bus services. If the station in Carno were re-opened, more drivers would switch to the train for medium and long distance journeys, and the journey opportunities available to non car-owners would be dramatically expanded.
Many people believe that car ownership is a necessity in rural areas, forgetting that the young and frequently the old are unable to drive and that the worst off cannot afford one. The re-opening of Carno station would thus have important social inclusion benefits.
2.2 Population growth
A new estate of 40 houses has recently been completed behind the Aleppo Merchant Inn, and it is expected that the former Laura Ashley factory site will be redeveloped for housing, with the construction of over 30 new houses and a 50 bed nursing home.
The closure of the Laura Ashley factory in 2005 has resulted in a significant loss of employment in the area, increasing the need for travel. With the transfer of Welsh Assembly jobs to Aberystwyth, growth in the numbers commuting there from Carno may be anticipated, and the railway is well placed to meet this demand.
2.4 Congestion relief
Congestion in both Newtown and Aberystwyth is becoming a matter of concern. The reopening of Carno station would reduce the number of car journeys to both centres for work, shopping and leisure purposes. It would also reduce the number of people driving through Newtown to destinations further East.
2.5 Carno Community Centre
The spacious, modern community centre at Carno is regularly used for conferences. It is often chosen for the conferences of organisations serving the whole of Wales, because of Carno’s relatively central location. The re-opening of Carno station would clearly be of great benefit to conference participants, as in many cases it would eliminate the need for long car journeys.
2.6 Environmental considerations
The 22nd Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution “Energy – The Changing Climate” recommended that Britain should adopt a target of reducing CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050. Now that the government has adopted this target, strenuous efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels will be necessary both in the short and long term.
In the Welsh context, the Welsh Assembly Government has a duty under section 121 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 to promote sustainable development, which likewise requires it to take measures to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
As transport now accounts for about one third of CO2 emissions, and motor cars emit significantly more CO2 per passenger mile than buses and trains, the promotion of a modal shift from the private car to the bus and train is clearly a priority. This modal shift would also help reduce the other negative environmental effects of road traffic – air pollution, noise and congestion.
Studies have repeatedly shown that drivers are significantly more willing to switch to the train than to the bus, because of rail’s greater comfort and speed. In the local context therefore, the re-opening of Carno station is likely to be far more effective in promoting modal shift, and hence reduction of CO2 emissions, than improvements in the bus service.
2.7 The Wales Spatial Plan
The Carno Station Action Group considers that the reopening of Carno station would be fully consistent with the aspirations of the Wales Spatial Plan, which emphasises the importance of Sustainable Accessibility and calls for the “planning of regions around strong integrated transport systems that meet more people’s needs for commuting to work”. The following objectives of the plan for Sustainable Accessibility are of particular relevance in the Carno context:
- To focus new transport investment to improve public transport links between centres and their catchments
- To improve links between settlements, their hinterlands, and with regional centres in sparsely populated areas to provide access to employment, shops and services, appropriate to the needs of the local population
The Spatial Plan also lists specific actions required for the different areas of Wales. The first action identified for the Central Wales area is to
- Identify areas of poorest transport accessibility: improve the quality of journey experience so people are better connected by incremental improvements to transport infrastructure through the Trunk Road Forward and Transport Grant programmes. Enhancement to rail and long distance coach services through direct support.
3. CAMPAIGN BEGINNINGS
3.1 The 1995 initiative
In 1995, Carno Community Council approached Powys County Council and asked if they would support the reopening of the former station. The County Council decided that this initiative was worth pursuing, and initiated consultations with the train operator, Central Trains Limited, who responded positively.
3.2 Repositioning the Talerddig crossing loop at Carno
Central Trains advised that they did not, in general, favour the reopening of intermediate stations on the Cambrian Line, because this would extend overall journey times. However, there would be no time penalty in stopping trains at Carno if the existing passing loop at Talerddig was relocated there at the same time. They pointed out that, in addition, the repositioning of the loop would significantly reduce the round trip time between the loop and Birmingham. This in turn would make it easier (in conjunction with line speed improvements elsewhere) to reduce by one the number of trains needed to maintain the current timetable, which would result in significant cost savings. Central Trains cautioned that any new platforms at Carno would have to be at least 120 metres long to accommodate the longest train calling.
3.3 Laura Ashley support
Laura Ashley wrote to Carno Community Council that they would support the proposal, and would be prepared to negotiate sale of the original buildings and the provision of parking places.
3.4 Powys County Council support for feasibility study
Powys County Council decided that the combined station and passing loop option merited further consideration, and that a more detailed feasibility study should be commissioned, provided the rail industry would bear at least half the cost. Unfortunately Central Trains declined to contribute to the study, citing the short duration of their train operating contract as effectively preventing them from obtaining payback for long term investments.
3.5 Railtrack’s technical appraisal
In July 1997, Powys County Council wrote to Railtrack asking them to comment on the proposal. Railtrack gave a brief technical appraisal of the scheme in the final paragraph of its reply:
“From a technical point of view, it would not appear that construction of a new station at Carno would present any insurmountable problems, although a survey of the site would need to be carried out to identify any particular difficulties or issues that would need to be addressed. Modifications would need to be made to the level crossing controls to accommodate stopping trains, and, if a loop were to be constructed, then two platforms would be needed, preferably situated on the exit side of the crossing in both directions. Additional radio signalling equipment would also need to be installed to allow exchange of tokens authorising drivers to proceed along the single-line sections. In view of the uncertainties about the amount of work that would actually be required at Carno, it is impossible to give an accurate estimate of the likely cost, but recent experience suggests that around £500,000 would be needed for a single platform station (including modifications to the level crossing), rising to around four times that amount if a loop were installed.”
Railtrack were also asked whether they would contribute to the cost of the feasibility study, but did not respond positively, so matters progressed no further.
4. IMPLICATIONS FOR CARNO OF PROPOSED CAMBRIAN LINE HOURLY SERVICE
4.1 2002/2003 Transport Grant Bid
In 2001, Powys County Council submitted on behalf of the Cambrian Railways Working Group an application for a Transport Grant for the infrastructure works required to enable an hourly train service to be introduced. This foresaw the rebuilding of the crossing loop at Dyfi Junction, with trains passing there, at Talerddig (as at present) and at Welshpool. However the current running time for the 27 miles from Talerddig to Welshpool is 32 min, which would have to be reduced to about 27 minutes to allow an hourly regular interval service to operate (assuming a 3 minute allowance for waiting times at the loops). Clearly the main technical challenge to be overcome before the introduction of the hourly service with this passing pattern was to reduce the Talerddig – Welshpool journey time by 5 minutes. This would have been difficult, given that this journey is already relatively fast with a 51 mph average speed, inclusive of two intermediate stops.
Unfortunately it was decided not to proceed with the rebuilding of the Dyfi Junction passing loop at that time, because the SRA was not prepared to underwrite the additional hourly service running costs.
4.2 2006/2007 Welsh Assembly Government Feasibility Study
About two years ago the Welsh Assembly Government took over responsibility for overseeing train services in Wales from the SRA. In 2006, it commissioned Network Rail to carry out a feasibility study to establish what infrastructure works were required to permit the introduction of an hourly service on the Cambrian line.
Network Rail began by considering a wide variety of passing loop patterns, but, at a presentation to the Cambrian Coast Rail Liaison Conference in Portmadog on November 24th 2006, they reported that they had narrowed the choice down to two alternatives – Dyfi Junction/Talerddig/Welshpool as before and Dyfi Junction/Carno/Welshpool. However, they recognised that the Talerddig to Welshpool running time was too long, and envisaged the extension of the Welshpool passing loop several miles to the West to form an extended “dynamic” loop. An extended Welshpool loop was also regarded as necessary for the Dyfi Junction/Carno/Welshpool passing loop pattern, but in this case the length of extended loop would be much less. As regards cost, Network Rail indicated that the extra cost of a new loop at Carno would be largely offset by the reduced cost of a shorter length of double track West of Welshpool.
It is understood that Network Rail are now proceeding with further development of the two short listed options.
4.3 European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS)
The Cambrian Line has been selected for the first trialling of this new signalling or train control system within the UK. Network Rail are currently specifying the necessary equipment, with installation planned for 2008.
The Welsh Assembly Government has wisely decided that, if affordable, the new infrastructure required for the hourly service should be installed at the same time as the new signalling equipment for ERTMS, so Network Rail are currently carrying out the hourly service feasibility study and ERTMS planning in tandem.
4.4 Loop site selection
Given the rough parity of infrastructure costs as between the Dyfi Junction/Talerddig/Welshpool and Dyfi Junction/Carno/Welshpool, it is clear that the Carno option is to be preferred, as it offers the possibility of re-opening the station at some time in the future without imposing any time penalty on the train service.
With the existing train service pattern, nearly all trains stop at Talerddig in order to pass another train. This stop adds a delay of at least 3 minutes to nearly every journey, but provides no passenger benefit whatsoever. It is particularly frustrating for passengers on a waiting train when the opposing train is delayed, as the stop appears to have no purpose and they are not even able to leave the train to stretch their legs or smoke a cigarette.
The need for infrastructure improvements in connection with the proposed hourly service provides a welcome opportunity to eliminate the practice of stopping trains at a remote location simply for operational purposes.
5. STATION COSTS
With the cost of the new passing loop forming part of the hourly service infrastructure expenditure, the extra cost of providing the new station approximates to the cost of two new platforms and the necessary car parking area. No footbridge is required, as the station would be adjacent to the existing level crossing.
There seems no justification for making the platform as long as the longest train likely to call, as Central Trains indicated would be necessary. Early in 2002 Scotrail opened a station with a short, 15 metre long platform at Beauly on the Far North line near Inverness. Although the platform length is less than that of a railway carriage, the conductor of the Class 158 diesel units used on the line (which also provide the service on the Cambrian line) is able to selectively open the doors required.
The whole station at Beauly cost £250,000, including a 120 m long new road access, turning circle and 10 parking places. Based on this figure, it seems unlikely that the cost of a two platform station at Carno with adjacent car parking area would exceed £400,000. Assuming 30 users per day, this capital cost spread over all the passenger journeys over a 25 year period would work out at only 75p per journey.
- A re-opened Carno station would be a major benefit for a large, relatively remote village, which has seen and will continue to see significant population growth.
- The station would facilitate commuting to jobs further afield, including the new Welsh Assembly Government jobs in Aberystwyth, following the Laura Ashley factory closure.
- The station would promote social inclusion, by providing transport for the old, the young and others without their own car. This would reduce the need for “chauffeuring”.
- The station would encourage green tourism and expanded use of the community centre as a conference centre.
- The station would provide crucial environmental benefits by reducing car journeys for work, shopping and leisure purposes.
- There would be spin-off benefits from reduced congestion in Newtown.
- Re-opening of the station would be fully consistent with the Wales Spatial Plan
- The envisaged implementation of infrastructure improvements for the hourly service in conjunction with the installation of the ERTMS signalling system provides a vital opportunity to establish a passing loop at Carno in 2008. This in turn would enable trains to stop at a re-opened Carno station without imposing any time delay on the train service.
A L Burton 24.1.07