Cambrian Line

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Cambrian Line
Type Heavy Rail
System National Rail
Locale Shropshire
Owner Network Rail
Rolling stock Class 158
Class 97
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge

Cambrian Line
Welsh Marches Line
Shrewsbury to Chester Line
Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury Line
Shrewsbury Abbey
Severn Valley Railway
Welsh Marches Line
Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway
Minsterley branch line
Westbury (Salop)
Plas-y-court Halt
Border between England and Wales
Oswestry and Newtown Railway
Welshpool (1st station)
Welshpool Raven Square
Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway
River Severn
Kerry Branch
Scafell Halt
Moat Lane Junction
Mid-Wales Railway
River Severn
River Severn
Talerddig cutting
Cambrian Mountains
Commins Coch Halt
Mawddwy Railway
Cemmes Road
Corris Railway
Dovey Junction
River Dyfi
Vale of Rheidol Railway
Carmarthen to Aberystwyth Line
Talyllyn Railway
Tywyn Wharf
Fairbourne Railway
Ruabon to Barmouth Line
Morfa Mawddach
Barmouth Bridge
Dyffryn Ardudwy
Pont Briwet over the River Dwyryd
Ffestiniog Railway
Porthmadog Harbour
Welsh Highland Railway
Porthmadog (WHR) station
Black Rock
Afon Wen
Carnarvonshire Railway

The Cambrian Line (Welsh: Llinell Cambria) is a railway from Shrewsbury (in Shropshire, England) to Welshpool, Aberystwyth and Pwllheli in Wales.

The railway is scenic: it runs through the Cambrian Mountains in central Wales and along the coast of Cardigan Bay.

The line includes long sections of single track.


The line branches at Dovey Junction, just west of Machynlleth: the southern branch goes to Aberystwyth, and the northern branch to Pwllheli via the Cambrian Coast Line, crossing the River Mawddach by Barmouth Bridge.


The line is made up of:

These lines were constructed between 1855 and 1869. From Buttington Junction west became part of the Cambrian Railways in 1864.

The Cambrian Railways became part of the Great Western Railway. On nationalisation these lines were operated first by the Western Region of British Railways and later by the London Midland Region. In a later reorganisation, passenger services were operated by the Regional Railways Central sector. Following privatisation in the mid 1990s, passenger services were first operated by Central Trains, then by Wales & Borders from 2001 and, since late 2003, by Arriva Trains Wales.

The last scheduled freight over the line was in 1993. In 2003, freight multiple unit trials were undertaken for a period of five weeks, transporting timber from Aberystwyth, via Wrexham General railway station to the Kronospan woodchip factory in Chirk. The trial used a pair of British Rail MPV units sandwiched around a rake of seven open-sided timber wagons.

In early 2014, services were interrupted and two trains were trapped at Barmouth when part of the Cambrian Coast Line was washed away by storms. The trains were eventually moved to Chester by road.[1] Additionally, problems with the reconstruction of Pont Briwet bridge near Penrhyndeudraeth resulted in a lengthy closure of the line between Harlech and Pwllheli during 2014. The northern branch was finally reopened in full on 1 September 2014.

Closed stations[edit]

Although the line survived the Beeching Axe, many stations were closed from the 1960s onwards. The stations closed include the following:

Shrewsbury to Dovey Junction:

Dovey Junction to Aberystwyth:

Dovey Junction to Pwllheli:


The Cambrian line was not directly threatened with closure in the 1963 Beeching Report. Later threats to the coastal part of the route, from Dovey Junction to Pwllheli, were subsequently withdrawn – despite the proportionately high cost of maintaining it. It is recognised as having an important public service role by connecting communities around coastal estuaries which have poor or no road links.[citation needed] Its tourism role is as a widely-recognised scenic route, as well as linking many coastal resorts, and connecting to seven narrow-gauge tourist lines.[citation needed] The coastal areas served are predominantly Welsh-speaking.

The line is sometimes mistaken for the Heart of Wales line, which acquired the name "the line of the seven marginals" because it ran in the 1960s through seven Labour marginal constituencies, when a civil servant brought attention of his minister Richard Crossman, Minister of Housing and Local Government, to this fact.[citation needed] As a result, because of the political consequences thought to be attendant on railway closures, though scheduled for such treatment the Heart of Wales line also survived.


Bow Street station in 1962

With long sections of single line and limited passing points, minor disruptions on the Cambrian Line quickly lead to compound delays and partial cancellations. This, combined with short turnaround times at each end of the route, led to severe unpunctuality during much of the first decade of the 21st century. The extension of the service to Birmingham International in late 2008[2] has helped address this by eliminating the tight turnarounds at the heavily-congested Birmingham New Street station. Maintenance changes and additional padding in public timetables has also helped improve performance figures overall.

In Arriva Trains Wales' performance statistics the Cambrian Line was routinely the worst-performing service group between 2003 and 2008. Since early 2009, recorded timekeeping has improved - a considerable achievement, considering that the route has been the testing ground for brand new signalling technology previously unused on the British railway network.

Cambrian Line performance comparison [3]
Service Group Punctuality 12 months to 13 Oct 2007 Punctuality 12 months to 6 Dec 2014
Cambrian 88.2% 94.3%
Marches 93.7% 92.7%
Wales-England 95.8% 97.7%
South, West, Central Wales 94.0% 96.0%
Valley Lines 95.1% 95.5%
North Wales Inter Urban 97.7% 96.5%
North Wales Rural 92.3% 93.4%

Line upgrade[edit]

In October 2006, it was announced that Network Rail would pilot the European Rail Traffic Management System on the Cambrian Line. The ERTMS will allow headways between trains using the same track to be reduced without affecting safety, allowing a more frequent service. Should the pilot scheme be successful, the system is expected to be rolled out on other key[clarification needed] rural routes within the UK.[4]

The upgrade was expected to cost £59 million and was to be completed by December 2008,[5] but the system was only released, for limited testing between Pwllheli and Harlech, in February 2010. Three signallers from the Machynlleth signalling centre and seven drivers were trained to operate the new equipment.[6] Ansaldo STS were the principal contractors for the upgrade with Thales as sub-contractors for the Telecomms. Systra is in charge of testing and commissioning the ETCS and interlocking components of the new signalling system.

A single track stretch on the Cambrian Coast Line

Ansaldo is installing ERTMS In Cab ETCS (European Train Control System) level 2, class 1, specification V2.3.0. As the name suggests, the driver receives the instructions for movement on the cab display. This level does not require conventional fixed signals - all the existing signals and RETB boards will be removed. Additionally, the line side speed signs will be redundant - drivers are given the appropriate maximum speed on the cab display (which shows km/h, not mph).[7]

The Cambrian ERTMS – Pwllheli to Harlech rehearsal started on 13 February 2010 and completed successfully on 18 February 2010. The driver familiarisation and practical handling stage of the rehearsal provided an excellent opportunity to monitor the use of GSM-R voice in operation on this route. The first train departed Pwllheli at 08:53 in ERTMS Level 2 Operation with GSM-R voice being used as the only means of communication between the driver and the signaller. Network Rail spokeswoman Mavis Choong was unable to give a figure of how much the scheme has cost, but said £400m was being spent installing it across the UK network. She claimed the 14-month delay was caused by the system "being new".[citation needed]

In 2007, a new flat crossing, named "Cae Pawb Crossing", was installed at the intersection of the Cambrian Line and the Welsh Highland Railway.

In October 2010, following completion of testing, the ERTMS system finally entered service between Pwllheli and Harlech and the previous Radio Electronic Token Block system removed. On 18 March 2011, the final commissioning phase for the ERTMS system across the whole Cambrian route commenced including layout alterations at Welshpool and Talerddig which would facilitate a desired increase in service frequency. At 07:20 on the morning of Saturday 26 March 2011, the New ERTMS signalling system was placed into operational use across the Cambrian Line controlled from Machynlleth, some 40 minutes ahead of the planned schedule. Two days of driver familiarisation then followed with passenger operation commencing on the morning of Monday 28 March 2011. An initial assessment by the operating company was not favourable: problems with the design and installation of the in-cab displays were identified and infrastructure failures included the control system becoming "confused" by common train movements, such as changes of speed or shunting into the depot.[8]

Llanbadarn level crossing incident[edit]

Shortly before 22:00 on Sunday 19 June 2011, a passenger train from Aberystwyth to Machynlleth ran onto the level crossing at Llanbadarn while the barriers at the crossing were raised, and came to a stop with the front of the train about 31 metres beyond the crossing. There were no road vehicles or pedestrians on the crossing at the time. The immediate cause of the incident was that the train driver did not notice that the indicator close to the crossing was flashing red until it was too late for him to stop the train before it reached the crossing. Factors behind this included the driver’s 'workload' (his need to observe a screen in the cab at the same time as he should also be observing a lineside indicator), the design of the equipment associated with the operation of the level crossing, and the re-setting of the signalling system on board the train before it could depart from Aberystwyth. An underlying cause of the incident was that the signalling system now in use on the lines from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth and Pwllheli did not interface with the automatic level crossings on these routes.

The RAIB has made six recommendations, three directed to Network Rail, two to Arriva Trains Wales and one to the Rail Safety and Standards Board. These cover the development of engineering solutions to mitigate the risk of trains passing over automatic crossings which have not operated correctly; changes to the operating equipment of Llanbadarn crossing; the processes used by railway operators to request permission to deviate from published standards; the operational requirements of drivers as trains depart from Aberystwyth; and the way in which drivers interact with the information screens of the cab signalling used on the Cambrian lines. The failure at ERMTS System-User Interface investigated by the RAIB indicates that the ERTMS Implementation did not satisfy the non-functional attribute of safety integrity of the real time dependable distributed computing concepts.[9]

Service pattern[edit]

Currently, trains between Birmingham and the Cambrian Line run about every two hours, usually consisting of two two-car units which divide/combine at Machynlleth; one portion continuing to/from Pwllheli, the other to/from Aberystwyth. The new signalling system and other infrastructure changes will allow the frequency of trains to/from Aberystwyth to double.[10]

As of the May 2015 timetable change, (almost) hourly services will commence between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury, some of which will continue to Birmingham International. Services which divide en-route at Machynlleth for station north towards Pwllheli and Barmouth will remain unchanged and only operate on a bi-hourly basis.

Birmingham International[edit]

Since December 2008, most trains are now extended to Birmingham International and make an additional call at Smethwick Galton Bridge.[11]

Coast Line Infrastructure Problems[edit]

Work began in March 2013 to replaced the wooden Pont Briwet viaduct over the Afon Dwyryd near Llandecwyn. The new bridge now carries two lanes of road traffic and the single track railway, and opened in 2015.[12] It was hoped that, apart from a four-week period where power cables had to be moved, the old viaduct could remain open throughout the works.[13] However, the bridge was found to have been affected by the piling work for the new bridge, and was declared structurally unsafe and closed in December 2013. This necessitated a diversion via Maentwrog for road users and caused rail services to terminate at Harlech. A new temporary bridge was due to open in Spring 2014, but this plan had been scrapped in favour of running a convoy system on the A496 road that serves as the diversionary route.[14][15][16] Work then focused on completing the main railway and road bridge by the end of the year.

Wave damage caused 3 January 2014 at Llanaber railway station

In January 2014, the Coast line from Dovey Junction was closed to all trains after two sections of track between Tywyn and Barmouth were severely damaged by storm-force winds and tidal surges at the beginning of the month. Part of the sea wall protecting the trackbed at Llanaber near Barmouth was washed away, resulting in some 300 tons of ballast being lost and the formation covered in debris, whilst further south a section of embankment at Tonfanau was washed out.[17] Two of Arriva Trains Wales's Class 158 trains were trapped at Barmouth, and were removed by road.[18] Network Rail described the damage suffered by the line as "devastating", but stated the line to Barmouth could be (and was) reopened by 10 February 2014. Repairs north of Barmouth have been completed, and the line reopened to Harlech on 1 May 2014, two weeks ahead of schedule.[19]

The full line reopened on 1 September 2014.[20]

Community rail[edit]

This is designated as a community rail partnership.[21]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Road trip for storm-hit Barmouth marooned trains". BBC News (BBC). 15 January 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  2. ^ "Aber-London rail link may reopen". BBC News. 19 December 2008. 
  3. ^ Arriva Trains Wales Performance Statistics. Source
  4. ^ "ERTMS National implementation plan" (.pdf). Department for Transport. September 2007. Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  5. ^ Webster, Ben (2006-10-17). "Digital sensors will reduce gap between trains during rush hour". The Times (London). p. 23. Retrieved 2009-05-31. 
  6. ^ "Pioneering rail technology gets tested in Wales". London: Network Rail. 12 February 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2010. 
  7. ^ "GE/RT8000/AM - ERTMS Rule Book - ERTMS Amendments module" (PDF) (1). Rail Safety and Standards Board. October 2009: 4, 5. Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  8. ^ Leppard, Peter (3 May 2011). Minimising the impact on the train service when resignalling an existing route with ERTMS, using its existing rolling stock (PDF). Copenhagen, Denmark: Global Transport Forum Limited. Retrieved 21 May 2011. Our very simple railway has been converted into something much more complex (and expensive!). So far the results suggest we should have kept what we previously had.... Nevertheless, we are determined to make Cambrian ERTMS a success! 
  9. ^ "Incident at Llanbadarn Automatic Barrier Crossing (Locally Monitored), near Aberystwyth, 19 June 2011" (PDF) (1). Rail Accident Investigation Branch. June 2012: 5. Retrieved 12 December 2012. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Arriva Trains Wales. "Proposed timetable 2008" (PDF). Severn Tunnel Action Group. Retrieved 2008-07-08.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  12. ^ "Penrhyndeudraeth-Harlech bridge replacement under way". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 15 March 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  13. ^ "Penrhyndeudraeth-Harlech bridge closes for cable work". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 15 April 2013. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  14. ^ "Pont Briwet bridge closed over safety as £20m crossing built". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 13 January 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  15. ^ Milner, Chris (1 January 2014). "Bridge fiasco could close Porthmadog line until 2015". The Railway Magazine (Mortons Media Group). Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  16. ^ "Pont Briwet temporary bridge plan scrapped". BBC News North West Wales. 19 March 2014. Retrieved 2014-03-24. 
  17. ^ "Repairs start on Cambrian Coast railway line after storm damage". Daily Post. 10 January 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  18. ^ "Road trip for storm-hit Barmouth marooned trains". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 15 January 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  19. ^ "Cambrian Coast rail flood repairs at Barmouth and Pwllheli to take months". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 20 January 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  20. ^ RAIL 757, p. 13.
  21. ^ "ACORP Summary map" (PDF). Association of Community Rail Partnerships. 28 July 2014. Retrieved 28 October 2015. 

External links[edit]