A New North-to-South Rail Route for Wales

One of Gwlad’s policies is to to improve the road and rail infrastructure linking the north and south of Wales.

Wales already has strong east-west rail connections, but the only north-south route requires a circuitous diversion through England.  The geography of mid-Wales makes it difficult to travel north-south, but it is not impossible, and there are a number of disused railway lines in mid-Wales which could be reinstated to create a new north-south rail route.

There is an ongoing campaign to reopen the former Carmarthen-Aberystwyth railway line which could potentially create a north-south route extending along the west coast of Wales to Caernarfon and Bangor. While this would be beneficial to local communities, it does not really provide much of a strategic improvement to Wales as a whole, and an alternative route could be developed which would link the more populous areas of north-east and south-east Wales, and connecting the existing North Wales Coast Line and the South Wales Main Line.

Proposed Route

Section 1:  Shotton-Newtown

The north-south route would start at Shotton, where the ‘North Wales Coast’ line crosses the ‘Borderlands’ line, but where the lines do not currently connect. There is no space available to construct a curve junction to the south west of this intersection, but there is space to construct a loop to the north-west, which would allow a direct connection between the coast line towards Wrexham for the first time.  The line speeds on this route are currently poor, but plans are already in place to improve this line as part of the ‘North Wales Metro’ proposals; fast through trains would no longer stop at intermediate stations.

Improved signalling and platform arrangements at Wrexham General would then allow trains to continue south on the existing Wrexham to Shrewsbury line as far as Gobowen.

The route would then follow the line of the former ‘Cambrian Railway’ between Gobowen and Welshpool, which would be reinstated including reopening the former station at Oswestry.  Some of this section is of course in England but you’d never know it without looking at a map – when you’re there, it looks and sounds Welsh. Part of this route is currently used by a heritage railway and this would need to be relocated.

The north-south route would continue along the existing Cambrian line to Newtown, which would become an interchange station between the east-west route Cambrian Line routes and the north-south route.  Through trains could also now travel along this route from Aberystwyth to Wrexham and beyond.

Section 2: Newtown-Brecon

A few miles west of Newtown, the north-south route would turn south through Llanidloes and Rhayader following the line of the former ‘Mid-Wales’ railway which would be reinstated. This section of line around Llanidloes contains some steep gradients and tight curves and some engineering interventions (i.e. new alignments, bridges, tunnels) may be needed here to maintain a faster line speed.

This section of line connects to the existing Builth Road station allowing connections to the Heart of Wales line.

South of Builth Road, the route continues along the reinstated ‘Mid-Wales’ railway through Talgarth to Talyllyn in the Usk Valley. A new station could be created here to serve the area between Brecon and Crickhowell, tentatively named ‘Brecon Parkway’.

Section 3: Brecon-Cardiff

The line south would then follow the route of the former ‘Brecon & Merthyr Tydfil’ railway to Talybont and then up into the hills through Dolygaer to Dowlais.  This section of line – although very scenic – contains some steep inclines and tight bends and would again require some engineering interventions to ensure a safe and reliable route (this section of line used to be known as the ‘Breakneck and Murderous’ railway). There is also another heritage railway – the Brecon Mountain Railway – which uses some of this route and again it would be necessary to relocate this railway.  At Dowlais Top, a new ‘Merthyr Parkway’ station should be built alongside the A465 Heads of the Valleys road, with rail-bus connections to nearby Merthyr Tydfil, Rhymney and Ebbw Vale Metro stations, and which would provide an alternative commuter route to Cardiff.

A few miles south of Dowlais, the route would join the existing ‘Cwm Bargoed’ freight line, before joining the existing ‘Rhymney Valley’ line at Ystrad Mynach.

The route would then follow the existing Rhymney Valley line through Caerphilly to Cardiff Queen Street and Cardiff Central connecting with the South-East Wales Metro and South Wales Main Line. This section of line is already busy especially around Cardiff Queen Street and speed would be limited due to frequency of metro services.

Timings

Taking an example route of Llandudno Junction to Cardiff, this currently takes 3hrs and 40 minutes, or 220 minutes (fastest service) via Shrewsbury and Newport.

The new north-south route should take:

Section Section Route Distance Journey Time Express
Llandudno Junction – Shotton Existing North Wales Coast Line 40 miles 40 mins
1a Shotton-Wrexham Existing Borderlands Line 13 miles 15 mins 58 miles – 55 mins
1b Wrexham-Gobowen Existing Shrewsbury Line 12 miles 10 mins
1c Gobowen-Welshpool Reinstated Cambrian Railways 19 miles 18 mins
1d Welshpool-Newtown Existing Cambrian Line 14 miles 12 mins
2a Newtown-Builth Road Reinstated Mid-Wales Line 38 miles 42 mins 62 miles – 66 mins
2b Builth Road-Talyllyn Reinstated Mid-Wales Line 24 miles 22 mins
3a Talyllyn-Merthyr Reinstated Brecon & Merthyr Line 18 miles 20 mins 46 miles – 53 mins
3b Merthyr – Bargoed Cwm Bargoed Freight Line 9 miles 8 mins
3c Bargoed – Cardiff Existing Rhymney Valley Line 19 miles 25 mins
206 miles 214 mins

Services could alternate between 2-hourly express services stopping only at Wrexham-Newtown-Brecon-Merthyr-Caerphilly-Cardiff and 2-hourly stopping services serving intermediate stations including Builth Road, Llanidloes, Welshpool, Oswestry, Shotton etc

Benefits

This route provides only limited improvements in end-to end journey times from Llandudno Junction to Cardiff but offers significant improvements in connectivity on alternative routes – for example Aberystwyth to Cardiff improves from 4hr 50 mins (fastest) to 3hr 15mins.

Towns such as Oswestry, Llanidloes & Rhayader regain their railway services, while Brecon and Crickhowell are served by a nearby Parkway station which is less than 1 hour from Cardiff, and should become a focal point for tourism in the National Park.

The Merthyr Parkway station would act as the focal point for ‘transport-led’ development in the Heads of the Valleys area.

Cost

The proposed reinstatement of the 45 mile Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line has been estimated at around £1 billion, and on that basis the new 70 mile Merthyr to Newtown and 18 mile Welshpool to Gobowen reinstatements should be in the region of £2-3 billion pounds.

To set that in context, approximately £5 billion of the cost of HS2 is being deducted from the Welsh Government’s budget, even though not a mile of it will run through Wales. Indeed, while the Westminster government justifies this on the basis that journey times from North Wales to London may be marginally reduced by it, its effect on the Cardiff economy is likely to prove strongly negative because competing cities like Birmingham and Manchester will be made relatively much closer to London.

Summary

A new railway route linking the north of Wales with the south, almost entirely within Wales, would provide significant and strategic benefits to large parts of Wales. This can be developed at significantly lower cost than the huge sums we are forced to contribute to the HS2 railway in England which brings zero net benefit to Wales.

 

Acknowledgements

Not all of the ideas in the above are original. Both Gareth Dennis and Mark Barry have written extensively on this subject, and their work is hereby acknowledged. It’s well worth reading their own blogs (via the hyperlinks given with their names) to find out more of their thinking on this topic.

 

15 thoughts on “A New North-to-South Rail Route for Wales

  1. Good thinking there. May not be the fastest ride around but it would certainly meet a need for journeys that are now really difficult to plan around. Potential demand along the route is more likely to support viability. Carmarthen to Aber is desirable but the population in between is more sparse.

  2. I developed most of these proposals a few years ago but was recently inspired to look at it again after watching ‘RailNatters’ episode #57 on Youtube by Gareth Dennis. My original route went from Talgarth to Abergavenny on a new line, but I preferred an idea from Gareth to use the Cwm Bargoed freight line to Merthyr and over the Beacons to Brecon, so I shamelessly stole this idea from him.

    In his latest episode #116 he provides detailed route maps and costings – where he has opted for a faster but more expensive route. Take a look and compare the two proposals. Maybe something between the two would give best value for money???

  3. How convenient it passes through Gobowen Shropshire – a personal service for Mr Gwlad himself ?

    A child like plan not worthy of serious comment.

    1. Assuming you mean me (hardly Mr. Gwlad), I don’t know what you’re talking about; this plan would inconvenience me massively, since I live in Shrewsbury, not Gobowen, and currently all the North-to-South trains pass through here.

      But I still think it’s a very good plan. Definitely a better use of infrastructure money than contributing to HS2.

  4. There is already a good north – south railway despite little internal demand. Most traffic that sustains the north and western route is N England – S Wales.

    HS2 will open up more passenger and freight capacity on existing congested routes – this includes Scotland and north Wales although under socialism and nationalism there’s little prospect of either generating much economic growth any time soon.

    I worked in LMR operations at Crewe in the 80’s and 90’s there was virtually no demand between the north and the south, I’m told peak demand today is pubic sector generated…..a typical welsh tale.

    Maybe England should quit the UK first.

    1. Go for it mate and take all your vanity projects with you. Trident, Westminster rebuild, off shoring migrant problem to Rwanda or anywhere else, ….the list is endless. You can cough and splutter as much as you like about HS2 but even that is getting chopped up, yet again, and will probably end up another useless unfinished scheme. Even Northern Tory M.P’s are getting fed up with the Londoncentricity of planning in general.

    2. Crewe, about 30 or more miles from the border, that place you mean? Idiot.

      1. Crewe is more important to north wales than Cardiff and a lot less than 30 miles away but its position on a map in relation to the border is neither here nor there.

        These comments expose a lack of understanding and a total detachment from reality, wales will never be independent.

        1. I feel sorry for you fella that you must troll a Welsh Republican page with your outdated brand of English Nationalism.
          You obviously have allot of bitterness and resentment towards people who want the best for Cymru and the only thing that your ilk can do is play The Anti English Card.

  5. One area where Gareth & myself differ – is in route north of Merthyr. We would both initially follow the bank of Pontsticill Reservoir – with my proposal to tunnel (>1km) from Dolygaer to Talybont Reservoir, then carrying on down the valley to Talybont, with a new ‘Brecon Parkway’ station built just north of Talybont next to the A40. Then largely following existing alignments north.

    Gareth’s route would cross the Pontsticyll reservoir at Dolygaer on a viaduct, before continuing north and entering a tunnel (2km?) under Pen-y-Fan. The tunnel would exit in the direction of Brecon and allow a new station to be built on the outskirts of Brecon, before then continuing north along new lines.

    This is a very ambitious proposal with major infrastructure requirements – brand new lines across the National Park – and at a significant cost – albeit with the benefit of placing a station nearer to (but not in) Brecon. The cost of this section would probably make the overall scheme unviable.

  6. Billy – your comment demonstrates your prejudices – but the propsal is not directly related to whether Wales becomes independent or not.

    It is a proposal to improve rail infrastructure in Wales.

    Mike

  7. If your article is only about how to ”improve rail infrastructure in Wales” then there would have been no need to use terms like ”looks and sounds Welsh” as an apology for crossing into England.

    When discussing the realistic possibilities of reopening railways in Wales its always ends up getting dragged down by the same issue – ie you can’t travel from north to south Wales without crossing into England.

    Why is this such an issue – are you preparing for a hard border or something ?

    1. Now who on Earth is saying hard border? What exactly is your problem with Railway Inferstucre being the responsibility of a Welsh Government.

      1. Because the Assembly isn’t capable of running anything, plus nearly every service in wales bar the valley lines and the Conwy valley line starts or ends in England.

        If you want a a truly welsh train service then all services should terminate at the border so England’s travellers aren’t held to ransom by a bunch of incompetent socialists.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.