It didn’t sound like a political message when Rhodri Morgan spoke to the Campaign for Real Ale’s UK AGM in Cardiff today.
He bewailed the lack of real ale (hand-pump stuff) in the Valleys, and pointed out that if drinkers wanted something worth imbibing, instead of the “fizzy beers generally found up there, they had to get to Cardiff. But getting there would be no problem, he said; deprived real-ale fans could use the train.
The point was made so casually. But the way Rhodri made the comment points to another major difference rapidly developing between Wales and England.
Our suburban trains run mostly every 15 minutes. Over a (real-ale) drink immediately afterwards, a fellow CAMRA member, a recently-retired former senior BR official, confirmed the difference – in Manchester, for instance, suburban trains are every half-hour. So do local trains on the world’s largest electrified system, around south London.
“We tried to improve the south London service some years ago into a metro running every 20 minutes,” he said. “For several reasons, the attempt failed. Nothing has happened on that front since.”
The importance of 15-minute trains is that passengers can ignore the timetable; they are willing to just turn up and wait.
Credit this to Sue Essex; as environment minister, she pushed through an Assembly aim to provide a quarterly-hourly service on most of Cardiff’s suburban routes.
This policy has a couple of down-sides, though. The main one is that traffic is increasing so much that six-trains are needed – currently, the Assembly is in the middle of a massive programme to build longer platforms, all paid for by Cardiff.
The other problem is that this also demands more carriages. But when London recently announced more cash for carriages to deal with extra traffic in England, Wales was quietly told that, as Cardiff was providing already for more trains than would be seen as necessary in England, the Assembly could go away and find its own money to solve the problem that the Assembly itself had created.
I fancy the same is happening with rural buses. But that is a story for another time.