16 April 1999

Welsh rail plan

back on track

By Robert Davies

A PUBLIC inquiry inspectors decision to stop the reconstruction of a railway running through 25 Gwynedd farms could be overruled.

Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, says he is "minded to grant powers which would allow the Festiniog Railway Company to reconstruct the Welsh Highland Railway".

The announcement has stunned farmers, who told the inquiry that spending £4.3m of Millennium Fund cash reinstating the narrow gauge track after 63 years would disrupt the management of their farms, scare livestock and make the summertime traffic chaos in the Snowdonia National Park even worse.

On many units, embankments were removed in the 1960s using MAFF grants, obliterating all traces of the railway. Some cuttings remain and the track bed is used for access to off-lying land, or as firm dry standings for winter feeding.

Richard Williams, chairman of the action committee that opposes the plan, claimed that it would cause serious disruption to farmers, who were encouraged by receivers for the bankrupt former operating company to incorporate the track into their units.

"Before this was done the 23-mile track deteriorated into an eyesore, fences broke down and stock strayed," said Mr Williams. "Gipsies camping on it also caused problems."

There was now no sign of the 400m of track that once ran through his 101ha (250-acre) Portreuddyn Farm, Tremadog. Restoring it would mean changing the grazing management of his dairy herd, and his conservation policy.

Both Welsh farming unions opposed the proposal at the inquiry.

Emyr Hughes, the NFUs senior technical adviser for north Wales, said Mr Prescotts statement had caused dismay.

"On this issue farmers, ramblers and the National Park were in agreement; the detrimental impact on farming, road congestion and the countryside far outweigh any increase in tourism income," Mr Hughes claimed. "We cannot see how reconstructing a railway of this type can, as the applicants suggested, be justified as part of the governments strategic public transport policy."

Opponents do not expect that a condition in Mr Prescotts statement, relating to a survey of rock faces in the vicinity of some tunnels, will prevent him giving the go-ahead. They are already taking legal advice about applying for a judicial review.

If the plan were approved, track would be laid between Dinnas near Caernarfon and Porthmadog, where it would link up with Festiniog Railways existing track. &#42

This hedge on Richard Williams 101ha Tremadog farm follows the line where, if John Prescott gets his way, the railway will be re-instated.