A RAIL line running through stunning scenery between Swansea and Shrewsbury could open up job opportunities and boost the mid-Wales economy with relatively little investment, a transport expert has said.
Professor Stuart Cole said he felt the Heart of Wales Line was not delivering on its potential, but could do at a cost of around £20 million.
He has submitted a report to a UK Government-commissioned review into what can be done to improve connectivity within the UK to help increase productivity and tackle social deprivation.
The Heart of Wales Line passes stops at towns including Llanelli, Llandeilo, Llandovery, Knighton and Church Stretton en route to Shrewsbury, which links to the West Midlands and also north – via Crewe – to Manchester and Liverpool.
It is mainly single track, with four daily services each way, although two of them currently run to and from Carmarthen rather than Swansea.
Prof Cole, who is chairman of the Heart of Wales Travellers’ Association, said he believed there should a couple of extra passing routes and a two-hourly service each way throughout a 12-hour operating day.
He also felt the current rolling stock should be modernised to cater for cyclists and visiting families, with flexible ticket options and more integration with the Traws Cymru bus network.
“This can bring economic growth by encouraging people to travel to the area, where the biggest sources of income are tourism and agriculture,” said Prof Cole.
“Walking and cycling are very important activities in Carmarthenshire and Powys. People come for the open air.”
Prof Cole advocated flexible fares, such as an all-in ticket for a week. This would allow a tourist to go back and forth on the Heart of Wales Line, and use Traws Cymru buses.
He added: “The opportunity is there to get the kind of train which is suitable for cyclists, for families and groups. The rolling stock does need an improvement.”
The low line speeds, he said, were less of a concern to passengers than frequency and reliability.
Although rural areas in Wales have experienced inward migration since the Covid pandemic, Prof Cole said mid-Wales’s productivity levels were 60.7% of the UK as a whole.
The emeritus professor of transport at the University of South Wales also said 87% of all journeys made into mid-Wales were made by car, and that a more connected and frequent train service with fewer interchanges for passengers coming from England would reduce that proportion, thereby benefiting the environment.
The UK review is being led by Sir Peter Hendy, the chairman of Network Rail.
An interim report was published in March. Although it didn’t mention the Heart of Wales Line, Prof Cole said the response he has received to his submission “seemed very positive”.
Transport for Wales, which operates the Heart of Wales Line and Traws Cymru, said it planned to run an extra train from December 2022.
Asked about the rolling stock and potential for better bus integration, a Transport for Wales spokesman said: “We’re currently in the process of refurbishing the Class 153 units that we use on the Heart of Wales Line, providing a better experience for our customers.
“We have plans to significantly improve provision for cyclists on trains on the route – we’ll have more details on this soon.
“With regards to integration with bus services, we’re working on plans to achieve this in the future, as part of the Welsh Government’s aspiration to create a more integrated public transport network.”