Bunhill: Roaring oil over troubled railways

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THERE'S something odd about the petrol tankers that trundle through Welshpool railway station alongside platform 1 most mornings. They have tyres.

The old petrol train, which made the weekly 130-mile trip from Shell's Stanlow refinery in Cheshire via Welshpool to Aberystwyth, chuffed its last in April. Shell switched some of its annual freight to road when British Rail raised its charges. To the anger of some locals, up to 18 juggernauts, weighing 38 tons, now pass through Oswestry, Welshpool and Newtown each week, usually just before dawn.

But the petrol still thunders through the station, thanks, say Friends of the Earth, to a piece of arrogant road planning that illustrates the Government's contempt for railways. A new bypass, built with pounds 7.3m of Welsh Office money, occupies the old tracks, and the railway line has been shifted sideways. Shell, which says it might revert to rail if BR cuts its prices, has been embarrassed by a 'Say No to Shell' roadside poster campaign and an awkward series of demonstrations at nearby filling stations.

As for the rail passengers of Welshpool, they now use a bus shelter on an open platform away from the town centre, leaving the magnificent listed 19th century Cambrian Railways station awaiting conversion into a hotel.