Seasonal area

October 2009

Current Seasonal Area is here

As we have a bit of a habit of featuring images showing railways on this website, for this month we decided to do something a little different and see how the other half live. This month's picture therefore features the M4 descending to its Junction 28, on the western edge of the Welsh city of Newport. Behind the camera the motorway rises steeply up the hill in a deep cutting to the generally inadequate and rather odd Junction 27; from there it rolls down the hill again and wobbles away through Newport heading eastwards.

The complete M4 motorway links the city of London and the town of Ammanford, via Reading, Swindon, Bristol, Newport, Cardiff, Swansea, several big bridges and many varied and not-so-varied landscapes. This resulted in construction taking 37 years to complete the 193-mile motorway. It is now going through various improvement works, particularly in the South Wales area, where the route (built around 1970) takes in two steep hills, several cramped junctions and the only bored tunnels on the motorway network (the rest are all cut-and-cover). It was built as two-lane and terminated for several years at Junction 28, on the west side of Newport and not quite visible in the distance beyond the bridge (which carries the "Golden Mile" - the railway out of Newport to Machen and Ebbw Vale). The possibility of diverting the motorway across a bog to the south of Newport has been rejected, so traffic continues to use the rather inadequate original route, which is at least now nearly all three lanes wide.

After the success of active traffic management on the M42 around Birmingham it is now being transferred to the M4 around Newport. Active traffic management sets speed limits based on traffic levels and allows traffic to use the hard shoulder if it cannot fit in the lanes already there. It tends to be accompanied by intensive speed camera systems, so average speed cameras have now been provided along the entire length between Junctions 24 and 28 to enforce the new 50mph speed limit - one is seen to the right poking hopefully out of the trees. Such is the efficiency of active traffic management that before it has even been installed traffic speed has been reduced to 45mph on Wales's premier road and use of the fast lane has virtually ceased.

Once the gantries have been installed traffic will be able to travel at a speed carefully set to match traffic levels and slot into the hard shoulder if necessary (the hard shoulder is particularly prominent here). Hopefully the long-term effect on traffic will be such that our proposed Wye Valley Railway services between Monmouth and Cardiff are able to compete with the motor-car on time as well as comfort and price. This is made especially likely by the imposition of further 50mph speed restrictions on the A48 expressway into Cardiff itself.

Having shown you this picture demonstrating how motorways match railways with their ability to blend seamlessly into the landscape, we would like to clarify that it does not mark any change in our position on motorways. The Order of the Bed does not consider motorway travel to be sufficiently restful for the modern world and believes that they should all be torn up and turned into railways.


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