I agree with many of the positive points made by John Harris about the Heart of Wales railway line (Want to see the future? Take a trip on Wales’ model railway, 19 August). He is spot-on about the efforts of community groups to keep the line open under considerable duress, and to provide a focus for the efforts of voluntary groups. However, he may not appreciate that the line is a rare exception in the railway system of Wales.
Since the 1960s, and before Beeching, the system was decimated by the operation of the market system. Lines were closed to passenger traffic in advance of the closure of mines and steelworks, which were the bedrock of the economy. The result has been almost two generations of depression for the valleys of south Wales and the isolation of north and central Wales from the rail network of Britain as a whole. Beeching and then privatisation have been disastrous for all of the industrial areas of Britain, but none more so than in Wales. Not only did thousands lose their jobs, but they were unable to commute to places of employment. What employer would relocate to towns and villages without a viable rail link?
Harris mentions Brecon, which once had three railway stations, but for some years now has been totally reliant on a bus link. We are expecting great things of Transport for Wales, but the mess left behind by a market legacy is going to be hard to renovate.
• It’s good to hear that the beautiful Swansea-Shrewsbury line is attracting such strong local support, and John Harris is certainly right to suggest that experience from this line could be applied to retaining threatened lines and reopening closed ones. The extension of the rail network is a dream to be pursued, but we should also push for less costly policies which could be introduced in the short term to improve access to settlements that lack a rail station. Above all we need a national body charged with planning, coordinating and improving the existing public transport network, somewhat as TfL does for London.
Even with the present absurd patchwork of different companies which run our trains and buses it would be possible to enforce proper coordination, remove stupid anomalies like not being able to use a day return on different carriers, ensure online information is accurate and comprehensive, and introduce combined ticketing on certain bus/train routes which would impose on the carriers the same sort of responsibility that train companies now have for getting passengers to their destinations within a certain time.
At present, even when a bus is timed to meet a train, it often does not wait if the train is late but leaves would-be passengers stranded with no advice or redress. Nationalisation might be more cost-effective – serious investment is clearly needed – but a powerful coordinating body of this kind would at least be a start.
• I am grateful to Shirley Williams (Letters, 20 August) for informing me that I live in a union which has worked so well for the last 40 years. Presumably there must be some other, more obscure reason why my nation is the poorest in western Europe, with permanently depressed economic activity, rampant child poverty and collapsing infrastructure.
I can’t imagine why Ireland, Malta and Cyprus – all of which left the tender care of that same union rather a long time ago – aren’t regretting their independent status and avidly seeking a return to rule from London. Perhaps the noble baroness can enlighten me? Or at least tell me exactly which nation she thinks needs to be united?
• The second letter above was amended on 22 August 2019. An earlier version referred to the Swansea–Hereford line where the Swansea-Shrewsbury line was meant.