RAIL 745 Stop & Examine

Pwllheli remains cut from the national rail network

Pwllheli is a town on the southern coast of Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales. It’s had a station since the Cambrian Railway opened its line in 1867, although the current station dates from 1909 and replaced an original that was a further from the town.

The unmanned station now has a single platform. It once had an island platform with two faces and a pleasing canopy. Today, most of the site is a supermarket with the railway squeezed down one side. There’s just room for a siding and run-round facilities, allowing more than the usual diet of Arriva Trains Wales Class 158s.

Not that Pwllheli has seen many ‘158s’ lately. No trains have called since November when Network Rail realised that work to build new bridge over the River Dwryd (12 miles from Pwllheli) was affecting the adjacent road and railway viaduct to such an extent that it could no longer carry trains. In essence, the bridge was sinking into the river.

Network Rail’s and Gwynedd County Council’s original plan had been to build a new single-track rail bridge on the seaward side of the original 1860’s bridge. With the rail bridge in place and trains running, the old bridge could be demolished and a two-lane road bridge built, complete with combined footpath and cycleway.

Further problems came when the road part of the old bridge was found to have rotten timbers and so it was closed completely. (It had a weight limit and so was only effectively open to nothing bigger than cars.)

Motorists now face a diversion while rail passengers are on buses. Meanwhile, the Cambrian Coast’s rails slowly rust. They’d been expected to keep rusting until May at the earliest, by which time Pwllheli will have been without trains for six months.

The line had its share of storm damage from the winds that battered Britain through the winter. Tywyn, Barmouth and Criccieth were hit, with debris, including large rocks, dumped on the track. Network Rail’s Mavis Choong told me that storm repairs should see the line reopen as far as Harlech on May 1 but she wouldn’t commit to a date for Pwllheli to see trains.

The damage was nowhere near as severe as that on the Great Western Main Line at Dawlish, and Pwllheli is not the size of Plymouth, but the Cambrian Line, wending its way along the coast, is popular and busy. It’s well-used by locals and tourists but its closure has gathered scant publicity.

Unlike the calls to reopen the LSWR route through Okehampton to avoid Dawlish, I’ve not heard any calls to reopen the route from Bangor through Caernarfon to Afon Wen to provide an alternative route! Its northern part closed in 1972 while the southern half shut in 1964.

Six months without trains is a very long time for any town. I can’t think of another recent example where disruption has continued for so long or with so little attention. Pwllheli deserves better.

PIC Philip Haigh Pwllheli170314

Looking east from Pwllheli Goods Level Crossing on March 17 as the Cambrian Coast’s rails rust through lack of use. PHILIP HAIGH.

 Higgins reveals HS2 ideas

You’ll read plenty of news and views of David Higgins’ report on High Speed 2 at the other end of this issue. For my part, I found the report to be very low-key, yet it contained some powerful ideas.

Pushing north to Crewe is particularly interesting. The proposed route between the northern end of Phase 1 near Lichfield and Crewe is relatively simple. There are a couple of tunnels and viaducts but it does not have the complication of the triangular junction further north or the long tunnel under Manchester.

It makes sense to open the western leg of Phase 2 in two sections and so spread the benefits as quickly as possible. Current plans include a link between HS2 and the West Coast Main Line just south of Crewe, before HS2 dives steeply to pass under the town at a depth of around 30 metres. HS2 trains could be running into Crewe while that tunnelling work is going on.

Higgins makes no mention of any equivalent plan for the leg that runs through the East Midlands to Leeds. The building work needed around Toton (with its tangle of railway junctions and lines) is more complicated and that’s the planned site of East Midlands station.

Perhaps it’s too complex to allow an early push to East Midlands, let alone further north to Sheffield, with the M1 needing to be temporarily diverted along the way.

Higgins’ work also lays bare the compromise that formed the original plan for a link between HS1 and HS2. While Britain insists on keeping over-zealous and unnecessary security and passport checks that the rest of Europe has ditched, there’s little point in running direct trains from HS2 stations through the Channel Tunnel. I suspect HS2 stations would need quarantined areas for security checks or that passengers would have to leave their train to file through scanners and passport checks. If that’s to be the case, we’d be better off with an easy link between Euston and St Pancras to allow passengers to change to international trains.

Gaining credence is a link between the WCML and Old Oak Common, which would be likely to run under Kensal Green Cemetery. This should allow WCML suburban trains to continue under London using Crossrail tracks, rather than terminating at Euston. It would help ease Euston’s Underground congestion and could deliver many passengers closer to their real destinations in Central London.

Finally, looking through back issues, I stumbled upon a quote from Sir Alastair Morton. He was chairing the Strategic Rail Authority in spring 2000 when he said: “There are capacity problems ahead on the West Coast, Midland and East Coast Main Line franchises, so yet more capacity north from London will be needed in the second decade of the new century”. How right he was!