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  • Lawrence Bailey

When staying on the rails makes sense

“If you build it, they will come”, goes the line from the movie.

Now I’m not for a moment suggesting that this outlook is driving all the regeneration activity in Swansea and the region.

I'll admit that the current approach is very different from my day, when local government simply grabbed the money and ran whenever government grants were on the table. Any consideration as to how you joined up the dots between developments was a distinct afterthought.

Thanks to a decade of austerity, local authorities and their partners now have to work a lot harder and a lot smarter.

It’s also crucial to recognise how there’s little point in creating new attractions without also providing better infrastructure and a decent transport system. In other words, when you build it, you have to make sure they can get to you.

This point came up repeatedly at a recent presentation by Swansea council leader Rob Stewart. He was mapping out a series of projects presently underway and in the pipeline.

It was interesting to hear him share the frustrations of an audience annoyed about poor rail networks and how bus services cease operating after 6pm. It was even more interesting to hear that change might be on the way.

The discussion was certainly timely. Government confirmation about spending on the controversial HS2 scheme has renewed debate about the benefit of fast-track options.

In our small corner of south west Wales though, I think rail investment needs a different kind of focus.

The arrival of the railways in the 19th century saw settlements thrive alongside the tracks. New communities sprang up and easier travel enabled the novel phenomenon of ‘suburban living’.

Soon there were few places without a ‘Station Road’. Sadly, in many cases, the street name became just a wistful reminder following closures made in the name of progress.

But it’s not for reasons of nostalgia that people still argue the advantages of a local train station. As far as I know, no-one has ever campaigned for a railway to by-pass their community.

Accordingly, I hope we finally abandon the notion that a new parkway station, located either at Felindre or Llandarcy, is any kind of marvellous ‘integrated’ solution.

Integration isn’t just about putting everything in the same place. Foremost should be ensuring that it’s the right place and done for the right reasons. It makes no sense to simply create more M4 congestion – and still fail to address the issue of how we move around within the region.

Whenever anyone mentions ‘Metro’ in these parts, it conjures up visions of a new tram line traversing Swansea Bay. Inevitably there’s a reference to the Mumbles Train; things get a bit heated and then it all goes quiet again.

Yet there are those who contend that we’re overlooking how there is already an extensive network of existing track. Indeed, given some ingenuity, it would be possible to introduce a ‘loop’ service that linked Pontardulais, Neath and Swansea and plenty of places in-between.

OK, we’re talking serious money in terms of making the physical connections but it’s probably less than one percent of what HS2 is going to cost the taxpayer.

There’s also the practical stuff about ownership, operating responsibilities and pricing to resolve. Even so, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear soon that just such a proposal is included in a package of schemes that have reached the feasibility stage.

Let’s hope that we finally get some backing to put this region back on the rails.



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