LABOUR Assembly Member, Eluned Morgan has said it is for the UK Government to make a decision on whether a railway station will re-open in St. Clears.
Eluned’s comments come ahead of a public meeting to discuss the idea on March 12th which is part of a long running campaign backed by the Town Council. So far, hundreds of people have added their names to a petition which calls on the Welsh Government to lobby Network Rail to ensure this station is included in future plans.
Eluned Morgan has said that even before the petition, the Welsh Labour Government had put forward a stage 2 feasibility study in support of the reopening but still no decision has been taken by Westminster.
The original St. Clears Railway Station stood adjacent to the site of the current Co-Op store and closed in 1964, operating for 110 years on what was known as the South Wales Railway. The new station, if approved, could serve a population of almost 100,000 according to a study undertaken by the University of Southampton, funded by Welsh Government.
Eluned Morgan AM said:
“There is a huge amount of interest in St. Clears Railway Station being reopened and I am delighted to support this campaign. There has already been a significant investment in improving railway stations and rolling stock across Wales and locally by the Welsh Government. But responsibility for new stations and the network infrastructure sits with the UK Government. We already know that Wales misses out on far too much public investment in our rail network so I’m calling on the local MP to do his bit to make sure residents get some good news and the green light for a station they deserve. It cannot be said that the support of the Welsh Government is in doubt on this project.
Labour Transport Minister Ken Skates AM said:
“The Welsh Labour Government has worked hard over the last couple of years to make the case for re-opening St Clears station. We’ve supported the assessment work and done all we can to explore the positive reasons why the station should be re-opened. We will keep making the argument for St Clears and keep working with the community to put the strongest possible case possible to the UK Government for re-opening this important station.”
St. Clears used to have a fine railway station, which was exceptionally busy with freight and passenger travel. The station was closed following the Beeching report in the 1960’s. Dr. Richard Beeching implemented cuts to the railways and there followed a subsequent rise in the development of road transport. The effects of the cuts over the period 1962-1968 were devastating to the railways. Many of the stations and lines have never reopened. Today there is a campaign to reopen St. Clears railway station.
There are renewed calls to reopen St Clear’s railway station. The issue has been largely ignored since 1973 when the last feasibility study was produced. Since that time heavy industry has moved into the area around the former station and along Station Road. The conditions of the pavements and roads have deteriorated and the land where the former station existed has been developed. Some of the old railway buildings survive including the Stationmaster’s house.
The station opened on 2nd January 1854. It was on the section of the South Wales Railway which opened that day between the temporary station near Carmarthen and Haverfordwest, and was situated between Sarnau and Whitland. A beautiful building designed by Isimbard Kingdom Brunel.
The station closed on 15 June 1964. An attempt to reopen the station in 1973 was made by five local authorities and organisations, together with the Department of the Environment, which jointly agreed to fund construction of a new station at a total cost of £5,400 (or £18,791 as of 2013. The new station would consist of concrete platforms adjoining both tracks and timber waiting shelters provided with electric lighting. It had been hoped that works would be swiftly completed so that the first trains could call at St Clears by the end of summer 1973, but this did not materialise. Mrs. Stella Griffiths remembers a very lively meeting taking place at Ysgol Griffith Jones where support for reopening the station was evident.
There was a local campaign for the reopening of the station, supported by Angela Burns AM and William Powell AM. In 2010 following a visit to a photographic exhibition at the town hall in St Clears, which featured photos of the old station buildings local man Lloyd Rees started a Facebook campaign to reopen the station. The campaign drew in thousands of supporters. The St Clears Times ran a community poll from 2010 and 95% of people who voted were in favour of opening the station.
Retired stationmaster and former resident at the stationmaster’s house Mr. Frank Willey paid a visit to the station in 2010. He took a good look at the area and concluded that a station would not work in that location any more. There are arguments for and against the station, which have not been explored fully. If one looks at the minutes of the St Clears Town Council the reopening has not featured highly in their discussions since 2009 when the then mayor Tom Brown said: “There was a lot of controversy about why it was closed – it was a very busy station and should not have been.” He said the catchment area included tourist destinations such as Laugharne and Pendine and said he was certain there would be demand. “We are progressing steadily but trying to open station that’s closed for so long is extremely difficult. We are very hopeful though,” he said.
St Clears itself is in the same position as many local towns in Wales and is suffering from the economic downturn. Whitland is a near neighbour equipped with a railway station and that has not had a significant impact on visitor numbers. In 2009 Llanboidy councillor Roy Llewellyn warned: “Whitland is almost a ghost town.” He added: “It will be too late when they’ve closed everything down.” Trelech councillor Dai Thomas said: “Over a long period of time, since the milk factory closed, there have been job losses. I don’t know how long Whitland can go on like this.” St Clears Town Councillor Huw Eynon uttered similar comments when he declared “St Clears is a dying town with a priest waiting in the room next door.”
St Clears has suffered through a lack of investment in the infrastructure of the town. The area around Station Road is in a poor condition with pavement and roads buckling under heavy traffic. The station is quite some way out of the town so anyone wishing to alight has a very long walk along treacherous pavements and in some parts there is no pavement at all. St Clears has also seem many feasibility studies costing hundreds of thousands of pounds including one by ARUP a top firm of designers, planners and engineers. This new campaign and feasibility study costing the taxpayer many more thousands of pounds may just end up suffering the same fate as the proposed river development, which never materialised. If the station were to reopen it may have the opposite effect and actually take people out of the town.
There is another local argument, which proposes that the exiting infrastructure is improved with a long-term regeneration plan drawn up for the town. This would include incentives like free parking for shoppers as well as facilities for the community including a community hall and business start up units for young people. These are the issues, which are highest within the community but appear to have been largely ignored.
All images ©Stanley Phillips Archives