The Ballad of Brackla Station

I know I’ve been getting a few searchs leading here on the subject, so I’ve decided to look into it in a bit more detail and hopefully provide an update.

For the unfamiliar, Brackla is a large housing estate/new town to the east of Bridgend, making up a significant chunk of Bridgend’s urban area.

Once just farmland, Brackla’s developed rapidly since the 1980s, with housing developments catering to young families and the settled middle classes.You could compare it to Bradley Stoke in Bristol, or Thornhill in Cardiff. Brackla now has around 12,000 residents, and by itself would probably be pushing into the top 50 settlements in Wales by population.

Brackla has developed in a car-centric manner: lots of cul-de-sacs and private drives, busy “spine roads” as well as being served by irregular bus services. That’s been eased in recent times with investment in walking and cycling routes, as well as traffic-calmed areas.

Although there’s only about a mile or two between the furthest ends of Brackla and Bridgend railway station, most people in Brackla can choose between opting for their cars, waiting for an hourly or so bus or taking a circuitous route through Bridgend town centre on foot to reach the railway station. You can guess which one’s the most popular, and the evidence is there every morning and afternoon.

So, for as long as I can remember, there’s been a desire to build a station on the south Wales mainline to serve Brackla (and Bridgend Industrial Estate opposite).

The year is 2001….

The Twin Towers are still standing. The foot-and-mouth crisis had just begun, with Carwyn Jones in charge of the Welsh Assembly Government’s response. Rhodri Morgan has been in office as Wales’s first “First Minister” for just over a year – in coalition with Lib Dems. Tony Blair was bouncing back from the fuel protests in the run up to the general election.

The Taliban were destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas long before most people had heard of Osama bin Laden. Shaggy is #1 with “It Wasn’t Me” – in between reigns by Atomic Kitten and Westlife. Your humble 16-year old blogger was preparing for his AS-Level exams.

Minister for the Environment, Planning and Transport, Sue Essex, held a “turf-cutting ceremony” for the new Brackla railway station in March that year – almost twelve and a half years ago.


What’s happened?

A twelve and a half year gap is quite an achievement, so it’s worth looking at the reasons why the project has slipped back so appallingly.

It’s not the council’s fault. I imagine Brackla councillors and others are as frustrated with the delay as everyone else, as they’ve been saying that it’s “on the way” for the best part of a decade.

The Welsh Government? You could say a station at Brackla isn’t a high priority – people can just use Bridgend station. That’s not the point, though. You would have to be really lazy to use a train between Brackla and Bridgend for obvious reasons. It’s more about Brackla residents commuting to Swansea and Cardiff (taking cars off the road) and providing a station for the industrial estate – one of the largest in Wales. It’s likely that a Brackla station would be well used and pay for itself.

In all this time though, at least 9 new stations have been constructed in south Wales – including Llanharan, a few miles from Brackla – at least another 4 stations are in the pipeline, and we’ve had at least five ministers in charge of transport. Some funding for the station has been promised already or provided via Section 106 agreements (page 2 here).

Written questions have been submitted by AMs to the Welsh Government, so they haven’t forgotten about it either.

The attention turns to Network Rail, and that’s where you discover the real reason why this hasn’t happened yet.

A Brackla station is being included as part of plans to boost hourly services to and from Maesteg to half-hourly. A SEWTA rail strategy report from March 2013 (pages 94-96), suggests Brackla station would be served by the current hourly Maesteg service, then by future half-hourly Maesteg trains or by local stopping services between Cardiff Central and Swansea.

Because the mainline is almost full to capacity, timing of services at Brackla is tight. It’s suggested they use a loop to enable express trains to pass at Brackla, and another upgraded passing loop would need be provided at Tondu for the half-hourly Maesteg trains to pass one another.

The Tondu passing loop has been held up for at least ten years. It’s even suggested that because electrification would cut a few minutes off journey times – and improve the timing of services at Brackla – it might have to wait until after electrification’s completed.

When?

2015 was the latest target opening date, that’s now become “post-2015”. Brackla station is one of the lowest priority projects – ranked joint 51stout of 54 – in SEWTA’s report to the Welsh Government earlier this year (page 32). It appears a Beddau rail link and new park and ride station near Miskin for the M4 have taken higher priority, which is somewhat understandable.


The site has being protected for a railway station in Bridgend Council’s draft Local Development Plan and, as pointed out earlier, SEWTA, Network Rail and the Welsh Government now have some idea of what impact a Brackla station would have on existing train services.

As depressing as it might sound, we’re probably closer to Brackla station becoming a reality than at any point since 2001. It’s just a question of timetabling, an updated design and finance (I’d guess it to be around £3million, and likely eligible for EU funds).

If the 2015 date were to have been hit, you would’ve expected a planning application to have been submitted this year, and construction starting mid-2014 at the latest. There’s no sign of that happening. If it’s going to be based on time savings made by electrification, then it’s unlikely to happen this side of 2018.

How about March 2021? Make it a nice round twenty years.

 

Owen