Mishandling of Valleys Rail Project Prompts UK Rethink; LIB DEM MINISTER SCORNS THE WAY LINE'S USE WAS FORECAST
Byline: RHODRI CLARK
THE mishandling of aWelsh rail project has led the UK Government to rethink the way benefits of proposed transport investments are predicted. Norman Baker,Westminster's new Liberal Democrat transport minister, said assessments of the Ebbw Vale-Cardiff project, and a similar one in Scotland, were "completely wrong".
The Ebbw Vale-Cardiff rail service went through years of preliminary studies but its launch in February 2008 quickly showed how inaccurate the demand forecasts were.
TheWelsh Assembly Government expected the trains to carry their millionth passenger after four years but that milestone was passed in just 20 months.
With demand underestimated, only three miles of double track were provided in the valley - not the nine miles originally planned - to save a relatively small sum of money on the pounds 30m project. Taxpayers will have to pay about pounds 25m for that extra capacity before the Ebbw Vale-Newport service can operate.
The Assembly Government originally promised that service from 2009, but the necessary infrastructure is still years away.
Mr Baker told Local Transport Today magazine the New Approach to Appraisal (NATA) - the official method for assessing transport proposals - would be reviewed, and pointed to Scotland's recently reopened Stirling-Alloa railway.
"That came out [from appraisal] as not worthy of reopening. You can barely get on the bloody train because it's packed out, so clearly the assessment there was completely wrong," he said.
"It's the same with the Ebbw Vale line reopening in South Wales."
Many transport experts felt NATA was not "producing sensible results", he said, adding that it was wrong to value time savings lower for cyclists than for motorists.
"All those sorts of calculations and assumptions are really 1970s thought processes, which haven't changed," said Mr Baker. …