Steam train at Afon Wen Station - copyright Ben Brooksbank
Heritage Railways Mid & South Wales North Wales

Ar Y Tren I Afonwen – Reopening the Afonwen Branchline?

There’s been a lot of talk about reopening the Bangor to Afonwen and the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line in the press recently. According to this article, it would cost £2bn to reinstate these lines. So my question is, is this really feasible? If these lines reopen then would people ditch their cars to use it? There are two major issues in my opinion (and I’m no expert).

Sheer Cost of the Project

Screenshot of the Open Railway Maps showing the old route of the Afonwen branchline in Caernarfon

You guys know I am a fan of trains and I would love to see these lines reopen.  I very much doubt that £2bn is enough to make it happen. The Afonwen line alone requires much work including reopening Vaynol Tunnel, moving Welsh Water treatment plant at Parc Menai and compulsory land purchases all over the place. And let’s not even mention the chaos it would cause in Caernarfon – in order for the train to take it’s original route through town it would mean cutting through two or three carparks, reopening the tunnel and reusing the trackbed currently used by the Welsh Highland Line.

(As a cheery aside – Ar Y Tren I Afonwen is a famous Welsh song)

I know nothing about the Aberystwyth to Carmarthen line but from the little reading I’ve done it has similar problems as the Afonwen line. Tunnel sections need to be reopened, sections of the trackbed is in private ownership so compulsory land purchases required, and I believe approx 4 miles of the trackbed has been used for the Gwili Railway. So yes, very similar problems as the Afonwen line.

Reliable and Decent Rail Services

TfW units at Pwllheli

We would also be relying on decent services being run on these lines. At the risk of sounding negative, TfW seem to be getting rather a lot of flack for their poor quality services both in South and North Wales. North Wales coast trains are always at capacity and TfW still only put 2 car trains out to service this route. (I shall caveat that with yes there are some trains with more than 2 cars but anytime I’ve travelled it’s been 2 cars and standing room only)

On the assumption that they can provide decent services on the Afonwen branchline, they would have to ensure they tie in with the services on the Cambrian Coast line because I can tell you now, there is absolutely no reason for you to be at Afonwen other than to connect to the Cambrian Coast (with the exception of workers at Johnsons Cleaners at Afonwen). Trains on the Cambrian Coast are once every two hours at the moment.

It would be amazing to be able to take the train to work along the Afonwen line. However my thinking is that by car it takes me 30 minutes to get to Pwllheli, and say 45minutes by bus…. how long would it take by train – travel time to Afonwen and then a connection to Pwllheli? Even as a massive rail fan, I can’t see this enticing me to get out of my car. Not regularly in any case.

Joined Up Thinking Required (but it ain’t gonna happen!)

It needs proper joined up thinking and quite frankly with Welsh Government in charge it’s not going to happen. I might be getting old and cynical but I’m not betting this will happen anytime soon. In my personal opinion, there is absolutely no point spending £2bn on rail links if the services won’t be there…. that £2bn would be far better spent elsewhere (in health or education for example). But let’s be honest, WAG will spend this £2bn on rail links as it serves the bigger agenda of “net zero”. As an aside… where will we get all the steel for the construction now that Port Talbot Steelworks are closing? Don’t get me started on that one – I’ve already mentioned it in the post about coal

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