Returning to Shrewsbury

By | Category: Travel rumblings
some of the deoration surrounding a doorway on platform 1

some of the deoration surrounding a doorway on platform 1

Last week there was a two MP debate on Shrewsbury. That’s pretty unusual but why did it happen?

Some years ago I wrote a story about the town and what you might see in a day. I started by arriving by rail back in the days before the Shropshire and Wrexham train service collapsed. Then I referred to it as “new.” Now the town has a new connecting train service supplied by Virgin Trains.

The town has 1.8 million passengers per year using the train, me included, and it was the subject of the station that the local MP, Daniel Kawczynski, wanted to raise. One part of a platform has collapsed, grasses and scrub bushes grow, lighting is inadequate in places and there are no security cameras in places.

I’m not criticising Shrewsbury necessarily but using it as an example of how many stations are being treated by the different bodies that are supposed to look after them. After all, many visitors and tourists arrive by train and form a big part of the traffic that the current boom in trains is having.

Amongst the first sights that a visitor will often see of a town is the station and the approaches leading to it. If that is untidy, dingy, unattractive then the first thoughts of the visitor are hard to change. Where are the hanging baskets, the raised flowerbeds of yesterday’s stations? Where is the effort to make the station an integral part of the tourist offering?

Shrewsbury is a major station having ornate Victorian features but where has been the investment and the care? If a station is not looked after, passengers begin to shun it unless forced to use it and by that I mean commuters.   But tourism brings the money in to a local economy. How many times have I said how important we as tourists are? But we need to feel secure and we need to feel that we are visiting somewhere attractive which Shrewsbury is once you leave the station and get into the town proper. But if the “gate” to the attraction lets you down…

Part of the problem is that responsibility for the station area is split between the operating company and Network Rail providing both parties the opportunity to blame the other.

Tudor houses and shops in Shrewsbury - a prettier sight once you leave the station

Tudor houses and shops in Shrewsbury – a prettier sight once you leave the station

The rail minister, Claire Perry, pointed out that many upgrades had been done and more were planned. So far she sounded like any other minister giving departmental pat answers.  She said, “One of my team, Mr Ochei, took it upon himself to go up to the station to investigate clearly and carefully some of the concerns.”  Congratulations to Mr Ochei. This is what should happen but you wonder whether it does and whether his initiative is the norm. But Ms Perry had obviously researched the subject before she answered the concerns of the MP and promised specific follow up. But can a minister do that will all our stations? Shrewsbury might have been the subject of this debate but there are dozens that I can think off that are, to put it politely, off-putting.

But it does offer some hope to the visitor and the railway passenger that an MP can make a difference and that a civil servant and a minister can deal with specifics. But what would have happened if all three hadn’t  been so assiduous? The cynic in me says that the two companies involved would have done as little as possible to just meet their targets and their brief.

As Mr Kawczynski said in on part of his speech, “What sort of impression does it give to visitors to our railway station if we cannot even get the simple things right?”

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