Spare that axe

train about to depart from Fishguard and Goodwick

All Aboard

“Experimental rail service faces axe because of low use by locals” – so trumpeted Wales Online a month ago. A scoop from reporter Rhodri Clark, who seems to be something of a transport specialist for Wales Online, “the best source for Welsh news, sport, business and lifestyle and entertainment.”

Fishguard Trains now offers some facts which might get in the way of Rhod’s story.

On November 9th, Welsh Government Minister Carl Sargeant, who launched the new Fishguard service on September 12th 2011, announced passenger figures for the first full year: 45,334. This compared with the previous year – 30,682, showing an increase of 14,652.

But you have to make three adjustments before drawing any conclusions:

1 Passenger numbers for all UK stations are collected and reported annually for the year April to March. The Fishguard figures are based on mid-October 2011 – mid October 2012 (compared with the previous Oct-Oct).

2 The latest published year of national figures (April 2010-March 2011) shows how Fishguard traffic was briefly boosted by the closure of European airspace by the Icelandic volcano. The previous three years showed a steady 23 – 24,000 passengers at the port station. But the volcano at the start of April 2010-March 2011 suddenly boosted numbers to 30832.

3 Fishguard and Goodwick Station opened on May 14 2012. So it was open for only two-fifths of the year reported by the Minister.

Taking these adjustments on board, here’s the true picture:

Average passenger numbers for the three years before the volcano were 24,453.

Passenger numbers for the first year of the new service were 45,334.

The increase of 20,881 was achieved without the benefit of Fishguard and Goodwick for three-fifths of the period.

Two official studies were commissioned when the new service was being considered. The Jacobs Consultancy predicted a first year increase of 21,200 – assuming a new station and car park at Goodwick. The Faber Maunsell study projected an extra 20,000 journeys in year one, also assuming a Goodwick station. The studies concluded that the projected increases, compared with the costs of a service, gave a Benefit Cost Ratio of 2.36, “good value for money for any WAG investment in the scheme”. Indeed at 2.36, the Fishguard service was one of the top prospects of any rail reopening in the UK.

In the outcome, passenger numbers have not only equalled the projections of two studies, thus demonstrating value for money, but have done so without the benefit of the new Goodwick station which was considered vital by both consultants. What a success!

Fishguard Trains’ conclusion: if anyone wants to wield an axe, let’s take it to journalism that’s light on facts.

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