Station reopening at Bow Street brings first trains for 56 years

By Peter Shuttleworth
BBC News

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Image source, Transport for Wales
Image caption,
The first train to stop at Bow Street was not made public so people wouldn't be tempted to break Covid lockdown rules

The name may be synonymous with a space on a Monopoly board and its connection to the birth of professional policing - but Bow Street has got its station back.

However, it is not the Bow Street near Covent Garden in central London but its namesake near Aberystwyth in mid Wales.

For the first time in 56 years, the village was joined to the rail network as the first train stopped on Sunday.

The opening was kept low key as Wales is under a strict Covid-19 lockdown.

So there was little fanfare when the 09:12 GMT service from Machynlleth to Aberystwyth stopped to pick up passengers at the Ceredigion village for the first time since 1965.

It was just a precaution in case any overeager railway enthusiasts had been tempted to break the restrictions for that shot of the first diesel multiple-unit train parked up at Bow Street.

Image source, Ben Brooksbank (cc-by-sa/2.0)
Image caption,
The original Bow Street station closed in 1965 - and is now the site of a builders' merchant
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The other Bow Street in central London

"This is an important milestone for us and we'd have liked to celebrate it more but that is not appropriate and safe at the moment," acknowledged Transport for Wales chief executive James Price.

The £8m project to reopen the station on the Cambrian Line that connects Aberystwyth and Pwllheli to Birmingham and Shrewsbury has been 11 years in the making.

The new single-track halt with a park-and-ride is south of the old station.

It closed after 101 years in the 1960s Beeching cuts which saw the end of thousands of stations around the UK. The former site now houses a builders' merchant.

Is Wales on track for any more stations?

Bow Street is the first station to open in Wales since Pye Corner in Newport more than six years ago - and other than some new trains, this is the first tangible marker for the Transport for Wales rail franchise.

Image source, Cardiff Parkway Developments Ltd
Image caption,
The Cardiff Parkway station on the outskirts of the city will link to the proposed South Wales Metro

But Welsh ministers and rail bosses hope it is the first of many stations around Wales that are being considered to improve public transport infrastructure.

A project to reopen St Clears station in Carmarthenshire has secured £4.7m of UK government funding while the Welsh Government wants UK government cash help to build stations at Carno in Powys, Deeside Parkway in Flintshire and Ely Mill in Cardiff.

A privately funded £30m Cardiff Parkway station at St Mellons has also been backed by ministers in Wales.

Four more stations - three in Newport and one at Magor in Monmouthshire - have also been recommended by a Welsh Government-backed commission looking to alleviate congestion on the M4 following the scrapping of a new £1.6bn motorway south of Newport.

Image source, Transport For Wales
Image caption,
Bow Street Station was joint-funded by Welsh Government and UK government money

But although Transport for Wales - which runs the Wales and Border rail franchise - is Welsh Government-owned, most rail infrastructure in Wales and across the UK is under Westminster control.

'Stuck in the sidings'

"We have lots of ambitions for reopening a number of railway stations and increasing the number of services but railways are run by the UK government," said Welsh Deputy Transport Minister Lee Waters.

"We're stuck in the sidings a little bit. Without UK government stepping up to the plate, we don't have the means to deliver them.

"We've called for extra powers to be given to Wales for railway infrastructure. We are being short-changed by £5bn over the next 10 years for the investment we need. "

The UK Government said the Welsh Government can and does invest in station construction and upgrade, in addition to the funding provided Westminster.

"This Government has committed a record £1.5 billion to the Welsh railways in recent years," added a Department for Transport spokesperson.

"The specification, procurement and management of rail services in Wales is devolved to Welsh ministers and we work closely with them."

Are locals all aboard for Bow Street?

Pre-Covid estimates made for the Welsh Government suggested Bow Street station would "generate" 30,000 annual trips and take nearly 466,000 vehicle miles (750,000km) off the local road network a year - helping reduce carbon emissions and congestion and parking issues in nearby Aberystwyth.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Aberystwyth is a popular seaside resort and has a large student population due to its university

"The benefit for the amount of money invested here was higher here than anywhere else," said Mr Price.

With its 70-space car park, bike shelter and 110-yard (100m) platform, the idea is for the station to be a local travel hub to take the pressure off the seaside and busy university town of Aberystwyth less than four miles away.

"Especially at rush hour and peak tourist season traffic is a problem," said Aberystwyth Business Club chairman John Glasby.

"Especially in a tight, cramped town with only two ways in and out - so hopefully a new park-and-ride station on the edge of town might alleviate that pressure on infrastructure and boost local trade.

"The estimate is if you invest £8m on local public transport infrastructure, the local economic benefit is three times that - so in this case about £24m."

All change to south Wales main line

But Mr Glasby, head of commercial services at Aberystwyth University, did say local businesses were "split" on whether Bow Street station was "good value for money" and could the "money be better spent elsewhere helping the town".

Image caption,
How the route between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen would look if reopened

"The railway project people in Aberystwyth really want is the reopening of the line to Carmarthen and the south Wales main line," he said. "But that is massive, massive investment."

About £755m to be precise, according to a feasibility study published in 2018.

Travelling between Aberystwyth and Carmarthen on the train currently takes about six hours compared with an hour and a half in the car - and the line is one of many across Wales people want to reopen.

The Welsh Government states railway infrastructure is the UK government's "responsibility" and Mr Waters said it was money ministers in Cardiff Bay "don't have".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
It is hoped the new station could reduce traffic pressure in Aberystwyth

"I understand the strong wishes to do something to reinstate it," said Mr Price. "But people will also understand that at the minute the significant cost involved."

But Transport for Wales engineers are looking at "slightly different railway technologies" to reinstate routes in "a more cost-effective way".

Does Bow Street signal hope for other groups?

Some people in the village have previously said they would continue to use the regular and quick bus service to Aberystwyth.

Image source, Carno Station Action Group
Image caption,
The 102-year-old station at Carno in Powys was shut in the 1960s

So there are a few envious eyes in Bow Street's direction from people who have been campaigning for a station in their village for years.

A campaign group at Carno in Powys claim the 27-minute journey between Machynlleth and Caersws is the "longest stretch of railway in Wales without a station" - and part of the reason why their station should be the one reopening, more than 50 years after the Beeching axe.

Image caption,
A petition to reopen Carno station was presented to Cardiff Bay in 2007

"It's fair to say we were disappointed when it was announced Bow Street would open," said Carno Station Action Group secretary John Ellison.

"Especially when other groups like ours have been continually campaigning so hard and have such local support.

"But, on the other hand, we're heartened to see stations anywhere reopen for communities - and it gives groups of volunteers like us hope to keep campaigning and hopefully one day we will get our station back."

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