Page last updated at 18:52 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 19:52 UK

Tech safety threat to steam line

Picture of the Cambrian Coast line
The Cambrian Coast line runs through mountainous countryside

Technology to improve track safety could halt future steam trains on the Cambrian Railway between Machynlleth in Powys and Pwllheli, Gwynedd.

The European Rail Traffic Management system (ERTMS) is being piloted on the line, before UK-wide installation.

Cambrian Coast railway liaison committee members are concerned no engine without ERTMS will be allowed to run on the coastal line from next year.

Network Rail said the system will improve safety and train reliability.

The ERTMS system would replace the radio signalling and track-side signals system used by trains at present and provide one European-wide communication system to train drivers.

There is no portable version of ERTMS being used in the pilot however and each engine will have to have the system installed - or be chaperoned by a modified engine.

Diesel train

This could mean a "big yellow diesel engine with a steam train behind", according to objectors.

"It seems they are not even looking to develop a portable version so steam specials, and any other special engines will have to have an engine fitted with the new technology on the front," said Councillor Trefor Roberts, the chairman of the Cambrian Coast Railway Liaison Committee.

Coun Roberts added: "I want an answer to this before the end of the year, and I feel quite strongly about it.

"Yes the trains attract the enthusiast, but they bring their families with them, and if the weather's nice they then come back again for a holiday, so it would cost us a lot of money," he added.

The trains on the Cambrian Coast line are run by Arriva Trains, but the infrastructure is operated by Network Rail.

Passenger safety

A spokesperson for Network Rail said the new system would improve passenger safety.

"We have to think about the majority of passengers here," the spokesperson said.

"For passengers who want to go to mid Wales it means more reliable, safer and frequent services."

In addition to four engines fitted with the new system for Arriva Trains, Network Rail said it also had a number of trains capable of running on the line.

It added it was feasible that heritage trains could still use the line - if they were pulled by an appropriate engine fitted with ERTMS.

The steam trains are run by Lancashire-based West Coast Railways.

The company's commercial director James Shuttleworth said he had been given assurances that this year's trips would not be affected.

"It they come up with a workable solution then I have no objections to it in coming years, because anything to improve reliability is to be welcomed," he added.

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