Rail (UK)

Mark Smith

PHILIP HAIGH ex­am­ines a prospec­tus from Welsh min­is­ters de­tail­ing the in­vest­ment they would like to see in the Welsh rail net­work, to aid con­nec­tiv­ity and ‘lev­el­ling up’

- Philip Haigh Con­tribut­ing Writer rail@bauer­me­dia.co.uk UK News · United Kingdom · Government of the United Kingdom · South Wales · Welsh Assembly Government · Whitehall · England · North Wales · Cardiff · Scottish Borders · Arriva · Network Rail Route 18 · London · Scotland · Swansea City A.F.C. · Swansea · Aberystwyth · England and Wales · Bristol · Chester · Chester City F.C. · Leeds · Leeds United A.F.C. · Manchester · Manchester International Airport · Abertillery · Marche · Abergavenny · Transport for Wales · Crewe · Crewe Alexandra F.C. · Broughton · Liverpool · South East England · North Wales, Pennsylvania · Wales and Borders · Holyhead · Meads · Magor · St Clears · Carmarthenshire · Caerleon · Llandudno · Holywell · Shrewsbury · Wrexham · Wrexham F.C.

“How­ever sen­si­ble the re­form and how­ever great the ben­e­fits to a ma­jor­ity, a los­ing mi­nor­ity al­ways shouts loud­est and changes to fares fre­quently be­come what ev­ery

Trans­port Sec­re­tary wants to avoid - bad news.”

RAIL in Wales is suf­fer­ing from decades of un­der-in­vest­ment, and this must now be re­versed as part of the UK Gov­ern­ment’s moves to­wards ‘lev­el­ling up’.

That’s the claim from Welsh min­is­ters, as they launched a prospec­tus for im­proved rail jour­neys across North and South Wales.

That prospec­tus points to im­proved line speeds, faster jour­neys and bet­ter con­nec­tions to at­tract pas­sen­gers from cars.

It notes: “The Welsh Gov­ern­ment’s view is that gen­uine ‘lev­el­ling up’ can­not sim­ply mean a sprin­kling of new, ad hoc rail projects de­cided in White­hall, it has to be part of a strate­gic ap­proach to pro­mot­ing growth in all parts of the UK.”

Welsh gov­ern­ment ad­vis­ers warn against in­vest­ment mod­els that favour spend­ing in ar­eas of high pop­u­la­tion, such as South East Eng­land where “suc­cess is piled on suc­cess” with projects such as Cross­rail and HS2. In con­trast, the Welsh rail in­vest­ment prospec­tus calls for pos­i­tive dis­crim­i­na­tion to “counter the in­built ad­van­tages of ar­eas like the South East of Eng­land”.

Welsh Min­is­ter for Econ­omy, Trans­port and North Wales

Ken Skates said on Novem­ber

23: “The UK Gov­ern­ment has to demon­strate its sin­cer­ity to lev­el­ling up our coun­try by ad­dress­ing their fail­ure to in­vest fairly in Wales’s rail, broad­band and avi­a­tion con­nec­tiv­ity.

“It has re­fused to de­volve these pow­ers and fund­ing, while also fail­ing to take our con­nec­tiv­ity se­ri­ously.

“The Union Con­nec­tiv­ity Re­view is an op­por­tu­nity for the UK Gov­ern­ment to re­flect on historic un­der­in­vest­ment and to fo­cus on putting things right.”

For Wales, its rail net­work is par­tially de­volved. Min­is­ters in Cardiff can shape train op­er­a­tions through the Wales and Bor­ders fran­chise, which has just been na­tion­alised from for­mer op­er­a­tor AmeyKe­o­lis ( RAIL 917), which it­self only took over from Ar­riva in 2018.

They con­trol the Cardiff Val­leys net­work, hav­ing taken it over from Net­work Rail in March 2020, but they have no say in in­fras­truc­ture in­vest­ment on the rest of the

Welsh net­work. It re­mains in NR hands, with in­vest­ment de­ci­sions and fund­ing con­trolled in London by UK min­is­ters.

The Welsh Gov­ern­ment wants par­ity with Scot­land, which con­trols its tracks and trains (al­though Scot­land’s tracks re­main wholly in NR’s hands). The Welsh Gov­ern­ment’s lack of con­trol of the lines to Swansea, Aberys­t­wyth or Holy­head means that it can’t eas­ily in­vest in im­prove­ments.

Its fund­ing set­tle­ment from London al­lows no money for such spend­ing, which means that if Welsh min­is­ters al­lo­cated funds to rail in­vest­ment, those funds would be de­nied to ar­eas for which min­is­ters are re­spon­si­ble, such as ed­u­ca­tion.

This leaves Wales in a po­si­tion sim­i­lar to any third party want­ing rail in­vest­ment. They can pay NR on a cost ba­sis for work, but they have lit­tle con­trol over how it is de­liv­ered and must pay what­ever NR’s bill even­tu­ally reaches, ac­cord­ing to sources close to Welsh min­is­ters.

They re­mem­ber the late de­liv­ery and bud­get-bust­ing costs of im­prov­ing the north-south route a few years ago. Not only was this work late and over-bud­get, it also (ac­cord­ing to those sources) de­liv­ered less than was wanted.

That ex­pe­ri­ence prompted the move to take over the lines ra­di­at­ing from Cardiff up the val­leys, be­cause this al­lowed min­is­ters more con­trol over their destiny. It has led to the call for proper de­vo­lu­tion and ad­e­quate fund­ing for the rest of Wales’s rail net­work. And ad­e­quate fund­ing means clos­ing the in­vest­ment gap that Welsh min­is­ters es­ti­mate as be­ing be­tween £2.4 bil­lion and £5.1bn over the pe­riod from 2001 to 2029.

RAIL un­der­stands that the Welsh Gov­ern­ment is par­tic­u­larly in­dig­nant about UK min­is­ters clas­si­fy­ing HS2 as a project for Eng­land and Wales. It ac­knowl­edges that HS2 will ben­e­fit North Wales, but ar­gues that this ben­e­fit is dwarfed by the dam­age it says that HS2 does to South Wales. And its clas­si­fi­ca­tion as a Welsh project means that Wales re­ceives no con­se­quen­tial fund­ing from the UK Gov­ern­ment’s spend­ing in Eng­land.

Scot­land re­ceives con­se­quen­tial fund­ing and also re­ceives jour­ney time ben­e­fits, ac­cord­ing to

gov­ern­ment sources in Wales. In other words, for Scot­land HS2 is a ‘win, win’, while for Wales it’s a ‘lose, lose’.

Clos­ing the gap

Welsh min­is­ters’ prospec­tus for rail in North and South Wales con­trasts the speed of main lines in Eng­land with those in Wales.

It la­bels Cardiff as the “worst rail-con­nected ma­jor city in the UK”, and com­pares un­favourably the South Wales Main Line’s speeds of 90mph or less with the 125mph route east of Bris­tol. In

North Wales, the main line from Ch­ester to Holy­head has sim­i­larly low speeds.

The prospec­tus com­plains of low service fre­quen­cies and over­crowd­ing, and com­pares Cardiff-Bris­tol un­favourably with Leeds-Manch­ester. By 2043, it sug­gests (us­ing NR route stud­ies) that both cor­ri­dors will have sim­i­lar de­mand for rail travel, yet Cardif­fBris­tol has two trains per hour

(tph) while Leeds-Manch­ester has 6tph and a com­ing £3bn up­grade.

For South Wales, Welsh min­is­ters pre­scribe up­grades that de­liver im­proved jour­ney times and more ser­vices. They want more trains be­tween West Wales, Swansea and Cardiff to London and Bris­tol Tem­ple Meads, plus more lo­cal ser­vices to link in­ter­changes such as Magor, Llan­wern, Cardiff Park­way, Cock­ett and St Clears, as well as Junc­tion 34 on the M4.

From Cardiff, min­is­ters want to see jour­ney times of 85 min­utes to London (to­day 110 min­utes), 30 min­utes to Swansea (to­day 55 min­utes), 30 min­utes to Bris­tol Tem­ple Meads (to­day 50 min­utes), and 75 min­utes to Car­marthen (to­day 105 min­utes).

On the Ebbw Val­ley cor­ri­dor, the prospec­tus calls for “sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment” to bring 4tph ser­vices and the re­open­ing of the line to Aber­tillery, which lost its pas­sen­ger service in 1962 (the line lin­gered to serve a col­liery un­til 1984).

On the Marches line, it calls for metro fre­quen­cies as far as Aber­gavenny and new sta­tions for places such as Caer­leon.

Around Swansea, it notes that Trans­port for Wales is look­ing at us­ing the Swansea Dis­trict Line to host an ur­ban metro service, with new sta­tions and di­rect lo­cal ser­vices to Swansea and Neath.

For the North Wales Main Line, the am­bi­tion again fea­tures faster jour­neys. Llan­dudno-Crewe and Holy­head-Ch­ester should be 60 min­utes rather than to­day’s 100 and 90 min­utes re­spec­tively. The prospec­tus calls for more through ser­vices to Manch­ester and Leeds and new sta­tions at Holy­well and Broughton.

It also calls for dou­ble track be­tween Ch­ester and Shrewsbury via Wrex­ham, new sta­tions at Wrex­ham North and South, and for lev­els cross­ings to be re­moved. It de­scribes Wrex­ham-Liver­pool as “the poor re­la­tion of the Welsh rail net­work” which needs up­grad­ing to bet­ter serve ex­ist­ing sta­tions and a new one to serve Dee­side In­dus­trial Es­tate.

It notes that en­hance­ment

“will in­clude speed and ca­pac­ity up­grades of [the] en­tire line and more im­por­tantly in­te­gra­tion of Merseyrail [ser­vices] south of Bid­ston to de­liver 4tph and di­rect ser­vices into Liver­pool”.

RAIL un­der­stands that min­is­ters in Wales at­tach less im­por­tance to ex­pand­ing the rail net­work, ex­cept for a few miles of new line needed to serve Aber­tillery and re­open­ing the dis­used line to Aml­wch, which closed in 1993 but lost pas­sen­ger ser­vices in 1964.

This means that the miss­ing links from Car­marthen to Aberys­t­wyth ( RAIL 793) and Ban­gor-Caernar­fonPwll­heli sit lower while min­is­ters ar­gue for more to be made of ex­ist­ing tracks. Both lines lost their ser­vices in the mid-1960s, with their loss re­duc­ing the Welsh net­work to es­sen­tially three lines run­ning west from Eng­land in the north to Holy­head, in Cen­tral Wales to Aberys­t­wyth/Pwll­heli, and in South Wales to Pem­broke Dock/Mil­ford Haven/Fish­guard via Car­marthen.

Nev­er­the­less, there ap­pears to be a gulf be­tween Welsh min­is­ters’ am­bi­tions for their coun­try’s rail net­work and the im­prove­ments seen from London. Aside from

HS2, UK min­is­ters ap­pear un­will­ing to in­vest much in rail, as shown by con­tin­ued re­sis­tance to calls to elec­trify the Mid­land Main

Line to Sh­effield and their forc­ing Trans­port for London to moth­ball work on Cross­rail 2.

Even if UK min­is­ters can be per­suaded to trans­fer rail net­work in­vest­ment re­spon­si­bil­ity to Cardiff, it’s by no means cer­tain that the trans­fer would come with fund­ing any­where near enough to sat­isfy Welsh in­vest­ment wishes. More likely is a trans­fer with fund­ing suf­fi­cient to force Welsh min­is­ters into dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions be­tween, for ex­am­ple, North and South Wales.

The prospec­tus ad­mits the dif­fi­cul­ties that Welsh min­is­ters face when it notes: “With­out sig­nif­i­cant change very few of the emerg­ing pro­pos­als set out here are likely to pro­ceed.”

If noth­ing else, the prospec­tus and Ken Skates’ com­ments about what he sees as UK gov­ern­ment fail­ures put con­sid­er­able pres­sure on the con­nec­tiv­ity re­view or­dered by Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son. The re­view is due to pub­lish its in­terim re­port in Jan­uary 2021 and fi­nal rec­om­men­da­tions next sum­mer.

“Even if UK min­is­ters can be per­suaded to trans­fer rail net­work in­vest­ment re­spon­si­bil­ity to Cardiff, it’s by no means cer­tain that the trans­fer would come with fund­ing any­where near enough to sat­isfy Welsh in­vest­ment wishes.”

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 ?? PAUL BIGLAND/ RAIL. ?? TfW Rail 175002 passes 150282 on the ap­proach to Cardiff Cen­tral on Septem­ber 12. Welsh Gov­ern­ment is seek­ing par­ity with Scot­land where min­is­ters have de­volved con­trol over in­vest­ment in the rail net­work.
PAUL BIGLAND/ RAIL. TfW Rail 175002 passes 150282 on the ap­proach to Cardiff Cen­tral on Septem­ber 12. Welsh Gov­ern­ment is seek­ing par­ity with Scot­land where min­is­ters have de­volved con­trol over in­vest­ment in the rail net­work.
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