- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Categories: Blog, Feature
Earlier this month if you wanted to get from Swansea to Carmarthen by train, you could get only as far as Llanelli. At Llanelli, busses would take you to Carmarthen where you could board a train if you wanted to go further west.
The quality that makes the railway journey between Carmarthen and Llanelli one of the most picturesque in Britain – its proximity to the shore – also makes it vulnerable to the sort of storm surges that battered the Welsh coast over the New Year period.
A collapsed wall at Pembrey and damage to the sea-wall and track at Ferryside closed the line for several days causing significant disruption.
Last week I met representatives of Network Rail, the private company responsible for Britain’s rail tracks, to discuss what can be done to protect the line from the sort of destruction that we have seen this month.
They told me that Network Rail spends about £1million to £1.5million on flood defences in Wales every year. However, the bill for January alone is likely to be into the tens of millions of pounds.
Prevention is better than cure, they say. And it is cheaper. While this month’s floods were severe, they were not exceptional. The truth is we must expect similar conditions in the coming years, perhaps weeks. If we really want to protect our railway infrastructure and also save money in the long run, Network Rail must work with partner organisations including the Welsh Government, local authorities and Natural Resources Wales to fund flood protection projects.
A review of Network Rail’s coastal management got underway last May. The company will be announcing the results of the north Wales pilot phase in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, despite cuts in funding from the UK Government, the Welsh Government is maintaining its flood and coastal erosion budgets. It is investing over £240 million in flood and coastal defences over this five-year period. This is good news.
Carmarthen to Llanelli is a very busy route. Lots of people travel to work in Swansea and the closure caused considerable inconvenience. However, flood damage to the railway line does not affect only train travellers. At Ferryside and elsewhere the track serves as a line of defence between the estuary and the community. Maintaining the sea-wall is important to us all.
Local authorities have a key role to play, too. I recently went to see sites at North Dock, Llanelli and Pendine where, over the past few years, Carmarthenshire Council has carried out regular work to strengthen vulnerable sections of the coast. It has worked; the damage done during the recent storms was minimal. At Pendine there is a new proposed scheme to create a groyne or bank to prevent a piece of land being lost to the sea.
Again the lesson is that prevention is better than cure. It costs much less to fix weaknesses before they flood than to fund massive civil engineering projects to reclaim land or rebuild railway lines, for that matter.