Around the country, train services are returning to normal timetables. Not though on Transport for Wales, where services along the Marches line have been halved. This leading to overcrowded carriages and an increased risk of Covid-19 transmission.
Notifications such as the one above at Ludlow rail station a few days ago are no use if overcrowded trains are only running hourly. If you are on your way to an essential meeting or hospital appointment you will have no choice but to get the train even if it is overcrowded.
At the end of 2019, there were 26 trains from Ludlow to Shrewsbury. Now, there are just 18 trains a day at intervals of 52 minutes to 69 minutes. There are no longer through trains to North Wales and passengers must change at Shrewsbury.
I am concerned that the service along the Borders will remain one train an hour, not the three trains every two hours it once was. In the week that the Rail Operators Group launched “Let’s get back on track” to encourage people to get back on board, Transport for Wales should tell us what its plans are to get its trains out of the sidings and back on the tracks.
As the country has begun to open up and people are travelling more for work, medical appointments and leisure, it is essential that our trains are brought back to normal. There might be a small or occasional reduction in services due to Covid-19, but with the rules on self-isolation relaxed for the double vaccinated it is surely now possible to run a full timetable.
At the end of 2019, there were 26 trains from Ludlow to Shrewsbury a day with trains running at intervals of 31 minutes to 64 minutes. Now, there are just 18 trains a day at intervals of 52 minutes to 69 minutes. There are no longer through trains to North Wales and passengers must change at Shrewsbury, making the long transit from Platform 4 to Platform 5.
This week the Rail Delivery Group, which represents operators, began a marketing campaign with the strapline “Let’s get back on track” with TV and online advertisements scheduled to run until the beginning of September. The group cited research by WPI Economics that found train passengers travelling for leisure spend on average £107 per trip on things like shops, restaurants and hotels, generating £46bn for businesses. It is important that we attract a slice of that spend to the Marches and towns like Ludlow. But that will be difficult while limited services serve our area.
The lack of trains is driving more people onto the roads. It is getting people out of the habit of travelling by train. That’s going in the wrong direction on the path towards net zero and driving down our carbon emissions.
Transport for Wales needs to act quickly and restore a normal timetable. If it fails to do so, I fear we will never see a return to a more frequent service. Those holding the purse strings will argue that there is not a high level of usage and no justification for a return to a more frequent service. That’s a self-fulfilling argument. There will never be a return high level of usage unless there are enough trains to allow people to travel comfortably, not sitting in corridors outside the toilet.
A failure to restore a full service will damage the economy across the Marches and beyond. It is time for Transport for Wales to get its trains out of the sidings and back on the tracks.