A COUNTY council has said it is “committed to doing all we can to progress the case” for the proposed reopening of a long-shut railway station, following remarks by its cabinet member for transport apparently dismissing the project.
Herefordshire Council said in a statement that a rebuilt Pontrilas Station on the Hereford-Abergavenny line “would significantly improve the public transport infrastructure for the long term, benefitting not only the rural areas of the Golden Valley but the wider county and the region”.
It claimed to be “already taking steps to bring together all the interested parties to the table”, and to be working with South Herefordshire MP Jesse Norman, who is a transport minister, and with local backers to lobby regional transport body Midlands Connect, the Department for Transport and Network Rail on the scheme.
Mr Norman confirmed on his Facebook page: “There is every intention for the cabinet member and officers to meet with me and other supporters to discuss the project in the near future.
“Now we need to bring everyone together, clarify exactly what is being proposed, build on the work already done – and make it happen,” he said.
Leader of the council’s Conservative administration Coun Jonathan Lester said: “Pontrilas offers the potential to improve our transport infrastructure significantly now and in the long term and we are keen to explore the project further.”
He said this will include pursuing the plan with neighbouring counties via the proposed Marches Forward Partnership, which the council’s cabinet formally backed last week.
In a written answer published ahead of the same meeting, cabinet member for transport Coun Philip Price did not deny a claim by his predecessor John Harrington that he, Coun Price, had said Herefordshire Council “has no interest in a railway station at Pontrilas”.
Coun Price’s reply went on to say that the project “offers poor value for money [and] will not create additional capacity”.
“I would be unwilling to saddle the council with the additional financial risk that building a new station would present at this time,” he added.
Rail operator Transport for Wales declined to comment. The Department for Transport merely pointed out that Pontrilas was among proposals put forward for its Restoring Your Railway Fund, but which in June last year were “not found to be suitable for RYR funding at this time”.
Pontrilas Station closed to passengers in 1958 after serving the local community for nearly a century.
Local residents launched a campaign to bring back the station in 2019, saying it could carry up to 500 passengers a day, as well as freight for industry such as Pontrilas Timber and Black Mountain Quarries.
Currently, anyone wanting to use the train locally must travel to Abergavenny or Hereford, which are 25 miles apart.
The then Welsh Government Transport Minister Ken Skates pledged his supporting 2020, but the final decision is down to the UK Government with the station site a few hundred yards over the border in England.
People say there is plenty of demand for the station, which could also serve heavy transport for the Pontrilas Army Training Area.
Professor Clive Stainton, who has spearheaded the project on Ewyas Parish Council with Cllr Peter Jinman said when the campaign first started: “Pontrilas Parkway is wanted by the local community and it would bring clear, direct benefits in many different ways and, above all, is achievable.
“There is considerable public support for this project. The local Neighbourhood Development Plan has Pontrilas Parkway station at its centre. Hereford City is in favour, as is Herefordshire Council.
“We appreciate that this is a project that will take some time to complete but there has not been a better time than at present to make a start given the needs of the area, the concerns as to growth in road traffic and increased investment in and usage of the national rail system.”