How Beech­ing’s cuts left train pas­sen­gers in N.Wales with a 6-hour trip to go just 30 miles

Caernarfon Herald - - NEWS -

WHEN Dr Richard Beech­ing took an axe to the Bri­tish rail sys­tem in the mid 1960s he made get­ting around Wales by train sig­nif­i­cantly more dif­fi­cult.

Once com­pleted, just three main lines travers­ing Wales re­mained – the North Wales main line, an­other link­ing Aberys­t­wyth with Shrews­bury and one stretch­ing from Pem­brokeshire to Cardiff and on to Lon­don.

In ad­di­tion, the Cam­brian Coast line re­mained to link Pwll­heli , Har­lech and Bar­mouth with the main Mid Wales route. The Heart of Wales line, from Shrews­bury to Swansea, was spared sim­ply be­cause of the num­ber of mar­ginal con­stituen­cies it crossed.

The re­sult? A na­tion where north and south felt in­creas­ingly dis­con­nected, as the rail lines which al­lowed for these cru­cial con­nec­tions dis­ap­peared, un­der­min­ing trade and col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween towns and cities.

The re­ten­tion of routes that flowed west-east, along with the poverty of north-south road links, made it eas­ier for those in the north to look to Liver­pool and Manch­ester, pushed those in mid Wales to­wards Shrop­shire and the Mid­lands, and made Lon­don a fo­cal point for those along what is now the M4 cor­ri­dor.

You can travel by train from Ed­in­burgh to Lon­don in the time it takes to get from Llan­dudno to Cardiff. Get­ting to ei­ther of those places from Aberys­t­wyth in­volves go­ing first to Shrews­bury. To those fa­mil­iar with these jour­neys, this fact won’t ini­tially seem shock­ing, such is its fa­mil­iar­ity.

Half a cen­tury later, Wales still bears the scars to a quite lu­di­crous ex­tent, as these three jour­neys sym­bol­ise.

Pwll­heli to Ban­gor: There can be few places in the UK that take half the time to travel be­tween by bike than they do by main­line train ser­vice. But Pwll­heli and Ban­gor are two of those lo­ca­tions. They were once linked by the Carnar­von­shire Rail­way, which went from Caernar­fon through Peny­groes, Nantlle and Bryn­cir to Afon Wen, where it con­nected with the ex­ist­ing Cam­brian Coast line to Pwll­heli.

If you fancy test­ing the bike v train chal­lenge be­tween these two points, you’ll prob­a­bly find your­self rid­ing along Lon Ei­fion, a na­tional cy­cle route which fol­lows the route along much of the old track bed. Google es­ti­mates the jour­ney at a leisurely three hours, which is half the time it takes on the main line train al­ter­na­tive, which stops no fewer than 43 times on a jour­ney that tra­verses Machyn­l­leth, Welsh­pool, Shrews­bury, Wrex­ham, Ch­ester, Rhyl and Llan­dudno be­fore get­ting to its fi­nal des­ti­na­tion.

How­ever, there is a way to do most of this jour­ney by train - on the nar­row gauge Welsh High­land Rail­way, which chugs its way along­side Lon Ei­fion as it me­an­ders from Porth­madog to Caernar­fon (via Bed­dgel­ert and Rhyd Ddu) in about two hours.

Bar­mouth to Llan­gollen: If Michael Por­tillo had been mak­ing tele­vi­sion pro­grammes about Brit- ain’s most scenic rail­way jour­neys in the early 1960s, he would al­most cer­tainly have found him­self on board a car­riage trav­el­ling from Bar­mouth to Llan­gollen. Trains on this route left Bar­mouth hug­ging the very edge of the stun­ning Mawd­dach es­tu­ary, be­fore head­ing from Dol­gel­lau through the south­ern fringes of Snow­do­nia, pass­ing Llyn Tegid in Bala through Cor­wen and ar­riv­ing fi­nally into Llan­gollen.

The post-Beech­ing al­ter­na­tive, while no less scenic, shuns the di­rect route of the line closed by Beech­ing in favour of the “three sides of a square ap­proach” tak­ing in a jaunt along the coast of Cardi­gan Bay, an east­ward tra­verse of the coun­try through Machyn­l­leth, New­town and Welsh­pool to Shrews­bury, be­fore head­ing north to Ruabon. You’ll have to make your own way to Llan­gollen from there, since the eisteddfod town’s sta­tion is now only used for the Llan­gollen Rail­way. It’s a three hour jour­ney, but only half that by road.

The end came in Jan­uary 1965, with the track be­ing re­moved four years later. These days, the only way you can pass along its route is on the Bala Lake Rail­way or Llan­gollen Rail­way, which use sec­tions of its track bed, by bike along the Mawd­dach Trail from Bar­mouth to Dol­gel­lau, or on a sec­tion of road close to Dol­gel­lau which takes ad­van­tage of the earth­works to build the rail line back in the 1860s.

Aberys­t­wyth to Car­marthen: Car­marthen is around 45 miles south of Aberys­t­wyth and yet trav­el­ling be­tween the towns by train cur­rently in­volves spend­ing the first two hours trav­el­ling north-east to­wards, and then across, the English bor­der. Af­ter ar­riv­ing at Shrews­bury, there’s time for a quick visit to the wait­ing room be­fore em­bark­ing on a marathon cross-coun­try slog through the likes of Here­ford, Cwm­bran, Cardiff and Swansea. By the time you ar­rive, it’ll be six hours since you set off (give or take the odd de­lay), you’ll have passed through nine Welsh local au­thori- ties and two English coun­ties.

If you’d done the jour­ney by car (1hr 20min) or bike (five hours, says Google), you’d have passed through two. And you’d have aligned your­self very closely to the crow fly­ing the most di­rect 45-mile route be­tween the two.

You’d have also aligned your­self fairly closely – for the sec­ond half of your jour­ney, at any rate – with the train line that linked the two towns un­til it was closed to pas­sen­gers in Fe­bru­ary 1965. That headed ini­tially south east to­wards Tre­garon, and then Lam­peter, be­fore mov­ing back to the west through Pen­cader, Llan­pum­saint and down to Car­marthen, where it con­nected with the route through to Swansea, Cardiff and be­yond.

These days, its legacy can be found in an­other cy­cle path – the Yst­wyth Trail – as well as bits of rail­way para­pher­na­lia rang­ing from some pre­served plat­forms in Llani­lar or con­verted into a rugby club (Llany­by­d­der), and a large goods shed in Lam­peter.

But the story of this route is not quite fin­ished. An am­bi­tious cam­paign is gain­ing mo­men­tum to re­lay the track and re-open the con­nec­tion at a cost that could reach £700m.

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