Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Llangollen Railway Trust (RR 23)


  It has been brought to our attention that the Transport Select Committee is holding an inquiry into Rural Railways and that a public meeting is to be held in Shrewsbury on 21 April 2004.

  The Llangollen Railway, a heritage railway, currently operates a remaining section of the former cross- country route from Ruabon on the Shrewsbury-Chester line to the Cambrian Coast at Barmouth. The section concerned is that between Llangollen and Carrog. There are active plans to extend beyond Carrog to the town of Corwen, a matter of slightly over two miles to give a total route mileage of 10. These extension plans had been delayed whilst the local authority and other agencies resolved matters relating to the proposed terminus site, notably addressing the question of alleviating flooding from where the proposed replacement terminus will be built.

  It is our hope that the matters referred to above will be resolved during 2004 but a further issue has arisen that I feel I should draw to your attention. This relates to a recent development affecting the potential to make the Llangollen Railway a valuable component of the United Kingdom's rail network in the future and could have significance for the social and economic well being of Llangollen, the Dee Valley and neighbouring areas.

  The former junction station for the line through Llangollen to the coast at Barmouth was located at Ruabon on the Shrewsbury to Chester Line. We consider the potential benefits from relinking the Llangollen Railway back to Network Rail at Ruabon are considerable and that the Select Committee should give due consideration to making recommendations that closed track-beds should remain protected transport corridors to preserve their value for reuse in the future. The situation in which we find ourselves is such that if such protection were to be established the present difficulty we are experiencing in convincing the Local Authority of the value of such protection would be avoided. There can be little doubt that rejoining the Llangollen Railway to the National Network would enhance the traffic potential on the Chester Shrewsbury Line.

  Denbighshire County Council do not accept that the track bed within its jurisdiction, other than 10 miles between Llangollen (Castle Street Bridge) and Corwen (Green Lane), should be protected from development that would obstruct any future reinstatement of a railway.

  The section, about which the Llangollen Railway has the greatest concern, from Ruabon Line Junction on the Chester-Shrewsbury main line to an end-on junction with the present preserved operation passes through two Local Authority areas. From the main line to just west of the site of Trevor Station, the trackbed is within Wrexham Council's jurisdiction.

  Wrexham Council has been positive in its attitude and protected the trackbed at Trevor Station when redevelopment took place on part of the station site. This has left the remains of the two platforms intact and allows for a double track formation to be reinstated. It offers the potential to provide a passing loop if services were to be reinstated. However, Denbighshire County Council take the view that the Railway could not be reinstated and have not heeded views expressed to them to the contrary. I would mention Denbighshire Council is also the railway's landlord with whom we would prefer to maintain a harmonious existence but, on this occasion, it is necessary to express our views very strongly.

  At Llangollen the trackbed to the east of the Town is partially obstructed by a landscaped area, part of the public car park and area in front of Lower Dee Mill, a housing development at Hoel Esgob and The Woodlands Hotel (River Lodge). Following the closure and relocation of the DAPOL Model Railway Factory, the future of the Lower Dee Mill site became uncertain and we have now heard that a developer may, or already has, applied for planning permission to build approximately 45 luxury flats on the freehold site. Our view is that any planning application must be the subject of an objection unless the developer were minded to make-over a suitable corridor to allow reinstatement of a single track link-line.

  Contrary to the view expressed by Denbighshire County Council, I can inform you that a Condition Survey undertaken by the railway's honorary civil engineer, Steve Jones, has shown that, despite the obstructions to the trackbed already in existence, reinstatement of a single-track railway extending from Llangollen Bridge to the former Llangollen Line Bay at Ruabon is still achievable. A deviation around the obstructions east of Llangollen has been surveyed and confirms the practicality of such a project, but that can only remain a possibility if Denbighshire Council can be made to understand the benefits that such a project could bring for Llangollen and the Dee Valley. In essence there is a critical requirement to protect a corridor from the easternmost point of the existing Llangollen Railway to where the original track-bed can be accessed beyond The Woodlands/River Lodge Hotel.

  The concept for reinstatement would be a single-track railway occupying half of the former double track formation. Part of the formation is used for public services and Wrexham Water, who installed a water main a few years ago, took the trouble to consult with the Llangollen Railway prior to undertaking the work. Consequently the water main does not obstruct any plans to reinstate the railway line. It is envisaged the half of the trackbed not used by the Railway would become a cross-country footpath between Llangollen and Trevor.

  Apart from the works required to deviate past the obstructed area at Llangollen, the other major concerns are the missing road bridge at Acrefair and providing an independent access to the Bay Platform at Ruabon avoiding use of the up and down Chester lines. There is sufficient width within the existing formation from Llangollen Line Junction to the Bay at Ruabon for a single track to be laid independent of the main line, any connection to Network Rail being an option to pursue at any time. However, the problem is at Bridge WSJ2/504 (Plas Madog Road) crossing the main line where the span is only sufficient for a double track. The bridge is likely to be subject to reconstruction to meet new load-weight requirements and if the southwest abutment were to be moved back to allow a three-track span to be installed, the operational situation would be resolved.

  Bridge 3 at Acrefair crossing the A539 Road was originally a single stone-built skew arch. Clwyd County Council demolished it in 1974 as part of a road junction-widening scheme. In engineering terms, replacement with a standard BR steel and concrete composite through deck structure is relatively simple and a practical solution.

  Operationally it is anticipated a re-laid line from Ruabon to Llangollen with a physical connection to the National Network would provide potential to attract both local and seasonal traffic, excursions and, possibly, freight using a trans-shipment facility at Corwen.

  Llangollen is a tourist destination with associated traffic problems. The valley location offers little scope for a by-pass road and, in the summer season, traffic clogs the surrounding roads and car parks. At Swanage, on the Isle of Purbeck, the need for a by-pass road was effectively avoided by the realisation that the Heritage Railway could perform a valuable Park and Ride function. The added attraction of Heritage Trains not only also helped draw passengers out of their cars for the experience but also freed the narrow roads in the area around Corfe Castle and Swanage.

  Elsewhere, a longer running scheme has significantly reduced traffic congestion at St Ives in Cornwall and, in this case, the highly scenic rail journey provides the additional attraction for motorists to abandon their cars and let the train take the strain. In both the cases I have quoted the appropriate Local Authority provided the parking area adjacent to the railway lines and suitable stations were built specifically to serve the park and ride schemes.

  In the case of Llangollen, the greatest potential for generating a viable park and ride scheme is at Ruabon, situated in Wrexham Council's area whereas Llangollen and the whole of the trackbed from just east of Trevor as far as Corwen comes under the jurisdiction of Denbighshire County Council. With access off the A539, Ruabon Station is ideally situated to become a parkway facility serving the Shrewsbury-Chester line both in a north and southbound direction as well as west into the Dee Valley.

  Ruabon Station is convenient not only to the A539 but also the A483 and the A5/M54 corridor. It provides a useful pick-up point for passengers travelling from Wales into Birmingham and the West Midlands avoiding the A5/M54/M6 congestion. In effect the Railway becomes a by-pass for the A5/M54/M6 into the centre of Birmingham and this will be aided by the intended rerouting of the Birmingham—Holyhead services via Shrewsbury-Chester in 2004. A parkway station at Ruabon also offers potential for park and ride to Shrewsbury (and for services via the North & West Line to South Wales and the Cambrian line into Mid Wales), Telford and Wolverhampton southbound and Wrexham/Chester (with connections to the North Wales Coast, Manchester and Liverpool) northbound.

  Southbound services terminating at Wrexham could be extended to Ruabon but potential would be enhanced if Ruabon-Llangollen were operated independently of, but in association with, the existing Llangollen Railway at specific times likely to attract good patronage. At Llangollen the existing horse-landing dock has potential to be extended back under Llangollen Bridge as a dedicated platform to accommodate up to two Sprinter Units (four-Cars) permitting heritage operations at Llangollen to be easily separated from services off the National Network when required.

  Chester is a developing centre of commerce and finance and Llangollen is within the catchment area for attracting employees. This would bring greater income into the town strengthening the local economy for traders. Equally, at weekends and during holiday periods, ease of travel into Llangollen without the need to rely on the motorcar will further assist commercial development and a good through rail service, especially with direct operation from Llangollen to Chester for both commuting and social purposes, will have traffic development potential. Ideally, a Ruabon-Llangollen shuttle utilising DMUs from the Llangollen Railway's resources would replace Monday to Friday through peak workings from a train operating company during the off-peak period. Steam workings from Ruabon to Carrog and Corwen would be restricted to peak holiday periods and in connection with special events.

  There is also potential for through trains and charters, especially at the time of the Eisteddfod, and these cannot be discounted because the ability to deliver up to 500 passengers without affecting road congestion in the town is significant. Corwen also offers Park and Ride opportunities for those travelling in from the west on the A5 and a railhead for freight at that location could assist reducing heavy lorry movements.

  I would appreciate you bringing this matter to the attention of the chairperson and members of the committee. I believe that there is insufficient weight given to the argument of protecting closed track-beds and that there have been numerous instances where it has become necessary to reuse them for their original purpose. There is a clear need to be wise before, rather than after, the event.

  It is clearly essential, in this case, that the Llangollen Railway effectively convinces Denbighshire County Council that its current attitude against protecting the establishment of a right-of-way past the obstructions to the trackbed at Llangollen is wrong and that they should be wise before the event rather than after when it is too late. In the most recent response from Ian Miller, Chief Executive of the Council, he has simply said that he has nothing to add to what he had written previously. I have written to senior ministers of the Welsh Assembly but have been referred to Denbighshire. Denbighshire's view is that they have no resources or funding but, quite clearly, when the financial arguments in terms of benefit to the community is assessed, and set against matters such as road infrastructure improvements, then reinstating the Ruabon to Llangollen Line will clearly provide value for money.

  I also believe that too little credibility is given to the potential of the Heritage Railway Movement although powerful evidence exists to demonstrate what it can deliver in the form of delivering traffic solutions on the Isle of Purbeck via the Swanage Railway. Heritage Railways have considerable depths of experience, especially when many core participants are former and current railway employees who have a natural enthusiasm for both their job and hobby.

  I am sure you will be delighted to learn that the Llangollen Railway Trust, together with the architect and contractor, recently received an Award from the Institute of Civil Engineers for the renovation of the Berwyn Viaduct. Steve Jones, the Trust's Honorary Civil Engineer, and myself attended the ceremony on behalf of the Railway Trust to receive the award from Douglas Oakervee, President of the Institute of Civil Engineers. The award takes the form of framed certificates presented to the client, the architect and contractor.

  The Berwyn Viaduct renovation was completed both on time and within budget and is a tribute to the professionalism of the all those involved. The judges commented, and I quote: "We could not help thinking how diabolically awkward the site was. The quality of the workmanship is just terrific." Clearly the Railway has established its credentials for managing major projects and Steve Jones and myself have now taken on the task of Project Development Officers for the purpose of establishing acceptance by Denbighshire County Council that nothing should be permitted to occur at the former DAPOL factory at Lower Dee Mill that would preclude the potential reinstatement of a single track railway from Llangollen Bridge to the National Network at Ruabon.

  The Llangollen Railway does not have the financial resources to undertake such a project and our view is that external funding in the form of grants, etc would be appropriate. What the Llangollen Railway does have is technical excellence to be able to take forward such a project and where the rural rail network can be enhanced by participation with the Heritage Railway Sector that input can lower the cost of reinstatement.

  If I were to express a view insofar as the site of Lower Dee Mill is concerned, I cannot do other than observe it has potential for the establishment of a National Railway Museum for Wales and such a development would offer considerable potential for traffic growth to improve viability of a reinstated. We already have excellent facilities for restoration of locomotives and rolling stock and the combination of the Llangollen Railway with a NRM for Wales would create an excellent facility and attraction.

  I am attaching copies of the route Condition Survey and Costings. These costings are for delivering a track-bed ready to receive the track. Allowing for an uplift since their were prepared in the year 2000, adding legal costs and completing works ready for service operation would bring the spend to the region of £12-£14 million.

Frank Spence

Hon Public Relations Officer

13 April 2004

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