Rail and road plans would unlock the 'full economic potential' of the region
Plans for rail and road improvements in Shropshire would "unlock the full economic potential of the Marches and Mid and West Wales", according to transport experts.
Midlands Connect has today unveiled its ‘Marches Road and Rail blueprint’ – setting out plans for improvements to rail lines through the county, as well as the A5 and the A49.
The proposals are being launched in a virtual summit – instead of in-person, due to the rail strike – and will be taken to government in a bid to secure funding to make them a reality.
They will specifically ask for rail funding as part of the Union Connectivity Review – a scheme to improve links between England and Wales.
Sonia Roberts, chair of the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership, said: "An efficient, effective and reliable transport network is absolutely essential if the Marches is to fully realise its potential.
"It is vital that we work with partners on both sides of the border to ensure that our transport network meets the needs of business, wherever in the region it is based."
For the Heart of Wales Line – which stops at Shrewsbury, Church Stretton, Craven Arms, Broome, Hopton Heath, Bucknell & Knighton – Midlands Connect wants faster trains and more of them and to enhance 'the effectiveness and comfort of the interchange at Shrewsbury'.
It also wants to see more integrated bus and rail for rural communities along the line.
The plan calls for speeding up journey times on the Cambrian Line – from Shrewsbury to Welshpool, Caersws and on to the West Wales end at Aberystwyth or Pwllheli – along with maintaining direct services to Birmingham, and optimising connections at Shrewsbury.
For the Chester to Shrewsbury line, which stops at Wrexham, Ruabon, Chirk & Gobowen, it is looking for more, and faster trains, as well as a review of accessibility to the trains, identifying any barriers people may have in using them for the “first and last mile” of their journey.
On Welsh Marches rail line, stopping at Yorton, Wem, Prees, Whitchurch, Wrenbury, Yorton, Wem, Prees, Whitchurch, and Wrenbury, Midlands Connect, it proposes cutting journey times from Hereford to Cardiff to under 60 minutes, encouraging people onto the train and away from their vehicles.
It outlines the need for cross-border integration of the bus network – to enable residents in Herefordshire to access rail at Abergavenny, which is closer than Hereford, as well as additional stations between Hereford and Abergavenny to give direct rail access to those living along the border.
A spokesman for Midlands Connect added: "We also propose the government support upgrades on the Birmingham – Black Country – Shrewsbury rail line as the ‘gateway’ to the Marches and Mid and West Wales.
"Following the Union Connectivity Review, in August 2022 we submitted our Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC) to improve journey times on the corridor by speeding up the line to 90 mph from Shrewsbury to Wolverhampton."
In terms of road improvements the paper also recommends upgrades for the A5 not just to improve local safety, but to enhance the longer distance role played by the A5 in connecting England to Holyhead and beyond.
It also calls for the delivery of the Pant – Llanymynech bypass as soon as possible – as well as the A49 corridor given its role in moving people and freight in and out of Wales.
Maria Machancoses, CEO of Midlands Connect said there were huge possibilities from the proposals.
She said: "This document outlines a series of road and rail projects that we believe could unlock the full economic potential of the Marches and Mid and West Wales.
“Midlands Connect has been working closely with the Welsh Government to create a plan that we will take to government in Westminster.
“All these improvements would help bind the union together but help Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin get the rail and road improvements they need.”
Helen Morgan, Liberal Democrat MP for North Shropshire, has also backed the plans, saying: "Communities across the Midlands and Wales are being held back by a lack of public transport, particularly in rural areas like North Shropshire.
“It’s vital that rail and bus routes are expanded, integrated and made accessible so that everyone can reach the jobs and services they need wherever they happen to live.
“It’s also crucial to improve safety in the villages of Llanymnech and Pant and Llynclys by building a bypass along the Welsh border, so I’m pleased that Midlands Connect’s proposals reflect all of these key priorities.
“The case for connecting the region is clear. The Government must now build on these proposals and implement them as soon as possible.”