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Sunday, November 18, 2007

The wrong sort of reptile

This morning's Wales on Sunday reports that new fears have emerged that the £30m rail link between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff will not be ready on time. The hourly service was expected to start rolling on 14th December but it is rumoured that there have been further setbacks caused by colonies of slow worms near the tracks of the new link.

Slow worms have of course been granted protected status, alongside all other native British reptile species. The slow worm has been decreasing in numbers, and under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is illegal to intentionally kill, injure, sell or advertise to sell them.

If these rumours prove to be true then it could be a further embarrassment for the Welsh Government, who pledged that the line would be open before the end of the year. It had been originally scheduled to be opened by Prince Charles last week but was not ready. I am sure that all efforts will be made to ensure that the Deputy First Minister is able to do the job instead next month.
A £30 m investment that'll make a real difference to an economically deprived area and it's held up by a nest of fe*king slow worms. What the hell is the world coming to.
I've never understood how people believe that reopening a railway line helps the economy of the area. In the case of Ebbw Vale the line is not needed for industrial purposes. All it does is make it easier for passengers in the first place to access Cardiff and then Newport. As for employment it will only benefit those who work in Cardiff now and can afford the train fare. Before waxing lyrical about the reopening of rail lines surely the Assembly should carry out some research on the economic effects of the reopening of the line to Maesteg.According to Department of Transport figures when Darling was Transport Minister it is one of the least used lines in the UK. The other problem with the Ebbw Vale line is as Douglas Alexnader famously pointed out , if one of the sprinters has 10 or fewer passengers on board it creates more pollution than 10 Land Rovers.
What difficulties do the slow-worms present? It's not as if new ground were being broken to create the Ebbw Vale service.

They may even provide an additional attraction for visitors to the valley, using the railway line.

Having used the Maesteg line a couple of times, I can see why it may not be popular. Train sets are generally old and the track seems poor. Journey times are consequently long.

For an idea of what can be achieved when proper investment is put in, see the Alvechurch & Redditch service in the West Midlands. From a couple of journeys (by diesel Pacers, like the Valley Lines) in each direction per day, service has now risen to a basic half-hour interval. Trains are electric and well-used.

- Frank Little
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