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Budget boost for rail campaigners

A bridge near Lampeter: Much of the infrastructure is still in place
A bridge near Lampeter: Much of the infrastructure is still in place

THE RETURN of a railway service which last ran in the mid- 1960s moved a step closer to becoming a reality after the Welsh Government agreed to fund a feasibility study.

The railway track between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth was taken up shortly after it closed for commercial use in 1975 – a decade after the last passenger train ran – but much of the track bed and infrastructure remains in place.

While reopening the line has been discussed many times before, and has enjoyed cross-party support, the latest draft revenue budget allocates £300,000 towards carrying out a full feasibility study into reopening the line.

This follows on from a preliminary report published last year, which indicated that the project was potentially feasible, although large-scale works, including a tunnel costing in the region of £60m, would be necessary due to building on the track bed.

At the time, the then economy Minister Edwina Hart said that she was ‘open minded’ to alternative public transport links in the region, but pointed out that Aberystwyth and Carmarthen were already connected by a bus route.

When the matter was recently raised in the Senedd by UKIP, the First Minister said that the project was ‘close to my heart’. The project has also been supported by Plaid Cymru AMs, including Simon Thomas and Elin Jones, and Ceredigion’s Lib Dem MP Mark Williams.

It appears that the financial allocation was one of a number of Plaid Cymru priority areas, forming part of a £119m budget agreement with Labour.

Traws Link Cymru, who have been campaigning to get the line reopened, claim that ‘this is the breakthrough we have been waiting for’.

“Reopening the railway would bring social, cultural, and environmental benefits, and would provide an economic stimulus to West Wales.

“It would help alleviate transport poverty in the region, provide a safer form of transport, be a significant boost to tourism, and lead to improved connectivity,” a spokesperson added.

It currently takes more than two hours to travel between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen on public transport, but Traws Link Cymru hope that this journey time could be reduced to 90 minutes by train.

However, the cost of the project – estimated at between £350-750m – could prove problematic. Last year, the existing Welsh Government-supported bus service was used 102,000 times.

Edwina Hart also pointed out last year that funding of rail infrastructure was non-devolved at present.

It is also unclear whether external funding for large infrastructure projects will be as readily available in the future, given uncertainty surrounding European Union membership.

However, this funding commitment shows a political willingness to explore the viability of reintroducing this service.

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Dayne Stone

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