Sunday, 24 April 2016

Railfuture jottings

A cross-border service under threat
It was as nippy in the Marches as I predicted, but pleasantly warm in our meeting room yesterday.

Why Shrewsbury? Sadly, because it is the optimum location for rail travellers from north and south Wales who wish to do business together in a day. No town in Wales fits the bill.

It was good to see one or two under-fifties, two of whom are now on the committee. Our Wales committee is still a female-free zone, though, and considering that (a) women are at least equal users of the railways in Wales; and that (b) the rail workforce is increasingly female, this is illogical and a handicap to our work. We were however honoured by the presence of Allison Cosgrove, chairman of Railfuture Scotland, who it appears have more influence on political decisions north of the border than we do in Wales (with all due respect to our chairman John Rogers and the favourable attitude of outgoing minister Edwina Hart).

Allison claimed that she fell into her job by accident, but her contribution yesterday gave the lie to that. (At the very least, fortune favours the prepared mind.) Not only did she give a cogent overview of rail developments in Scotland, but was also helpful in interchanges about the situation in Wales. I was also gratified that she acknowledged the contribution to the revival of rail in the Borders made by Liberal Democrat MSPs and MPs in the first coalition government. Although this was succeeded by a majority nationalist administration, who naturally claimed credit when the Borders Railway reopened, it was Scottish LibDems who set the scheme in train - finally justifying David Steel's first big campaign of 53 years ago.

Transport for Wales

We in Wales still have a struggle to reach the position which the Scots have achieved. In spite of having to operate under a franchising system (which Transport for London managed to side-step) Transport Scotland's achievements are impressive. At least the arms-length company which RF Cymru and other pressure groups have craved has been set up in the form of Transport For Wales. No public announcement has been made about it, though, and our secretary has been unable to discover whether it has any staff or a physical location.

Standing on Shrewsbury station, it was great to hear the service to Birmingham International being announced as run by Arriva Trains Wales. This and other cross-border routes could be chopped up or reassigned if the Welsh government coming in after 5th May is not robust when negotiations on the post-2018 shape of the railways resume. Retention of these routes is a key feature of the Liberal Democrat transport policy (along with many other proposed improvements) in the manifesto on which I am fighting the election - and, to be fair, some candidates in other parties recognise the need for strong rail organisation in Wales.

RFC chairman John Rogers warned that we could be going back to the bad old days.

No comments: