Last train to nowhere

January 17, 2003 ,

THE announcement that there will be no train service back to England after the Six Nations match at the Millennium Stadium on 22 February is a huge blow to Cardiff's reputation as a modern capital city.

Who's fault is it? This week I spoke to a source at the very highest level of the BBC in London. He confirmed to me that it was their policy when purchasing weekend sporting events to move more and more of them to the teatime spot.

He explained that the viewing figures for the match at 5.30pm would be double that at the traditional 3pm kick off time. It was the BBC's preference to introduce similar moves, but not this year, for the FA Cup Final.

He said that the only thing that could stop them doing so would be if there were strong objections from the police on safety grounds. But why haven't they consulted the Rail Companies?

Wales and the Borders Trains, who have taken over the operation of the station, say that they cannot guarantee safety at the station. If all the 28,000 who want to use the train converge on the station after the match then there could be a major incident.

I have seen the evidence of this. After the Rugby World cup Final in 1999, there were serious congestion problems at the stadium. Friends of mine trying to travel back to London gave up, and found a local taxi firm willing to take them back for not much more per head than a train ticket.

This begs the question, however, as to how safe it is to have all that extra traffic on the roads.
But surely it ought to be possible to calculate how many people could be safely conveyed back to England by rail. I am sure that that figure should be greater than zero.

The train companies could sell tickets on a pre-booked reserved basis, ensuring that only people with a guaranteed place on the train could travel.

But in truth there are other reasons.

The cost of hiring in extra rolling stock, making sure it is in the right place the next day and paying staff overtime is not worth their while.

This ‘can't do' attitude is not new with regard to Millennium Stadium events. Before entering parliament I chaired Cardiff City Council's Economic Scrutiny Committee.

When the committee reported two and a half years ago we recommended that agreed scenario plans be drawn up jointly by Millennium Stadium plc, the WRU, the train companies, police, broadcasters, council and other parties, so that a plan was in place for each possible event.

For example, a rugby match in the early evening. It should not have been beyond the wit of these bodies to do that, and it should happen now to avoid future fiascos.

Do not underestimate the damage that this does to Cardiff and Wales. My colleague Chris Bryant, MP for Rhondda, has pointed out that Cardiff is in danger of being known as City of Matinée Culture. We can put on your event as long as its not after 3pm.