No-one pretends the almighty cock-up over the awarding of the West Coast Rail Line franchise was anything but a disaster. Silver linings are hard to find. But today, St Patrick McLoughlin delivered one for Mid Wales and Shropshire. When the direct train from Shrewsbury to Euston was lost, it was a big blow to Mid Wales in particular. And when First Rail 'won' the franchise earlier this year, I welcomed the proposed restoration of the direct link proposed to run from 2015. Went to listen to Patrick McLoughlin, Sec of State for Transport at the Despatch Box today telling us what was to happen from next week. I was primed to challenge the great man over the missing Shrewsbury-Euston link.
Well Santa Patrick had a nice little Xmas present lined up. He'd done a deal with Richard Branson to continue the Virgin contract for next 23 months, including a new direct Shrewsbury-Euston link, running from next year. No more hanging around B'ham New St. Stn, no more limping home on Arriva Trains to Shrewsbury, and sitting there for ages while some mysterious infrastructure changes are made (no idea what but it involves much banging and clanging).
I will probably start using the train again when the direct link is restored. At present, Welshpool is a problem because there is no return train late enough on a thurs to get past Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury itself is discouraging because of the hassle of train changes (which will now end) and by the time you've negotiated traffic to reach Wolverhampton Stn, you're already half way to London. And I see a new Premier Inn is being built nr Shrewsbury Stn to help passengers from furthest reaches of Mid Wales. Next challenge is to provide some proper parking at Shrewsbury. Mrs D once arrived home only to find the car nicked. And accessing the car park by walking across the Dana is too dark and threatening. But today was a good news day for rail travellers from Mid Wales and Shropshire. Instead of laying into the Secretary of State, I just offered to buy him a coffee on the inaugural journey!