Revealed: Wales left £1bn short with latest plans for rail funding
WALES will be short-changed by another £1bn during Network Rail’s next five-year funding period, a new document has revealed.
The missing money is additional to the loss of £700m which the UK Government had previously planned to spend on electrifying the line from Cardiff to Swansea.
Among the casualties of the latest funding shortfall is a signalling renewal scheme which would have enabled Llandudno – Wales’ biggest resort and a major conference venue – to have a Sunday train service throughout the year.
In October the UK Government, which has rejected devolution of Welsh rail infrastructure, announced Network Rail would receive £48bn for operating, maintaining, and renewing the railways in Control Period 6 (CP6) from 2019 to 2024.
Network Rail’s Wales Route, which includes lines in adjoining counties of England, would receive about £2.4bn of the £48bn if the money was shared out according to population, or £2.9bn according to track mileage.
Instead the Wales Route will receive just £1.34bn – more than £1bn less than the pro rata share.
Network Rail said Wales would receive a record investment and using percentage terms to compare that with other areas was a “crude measure”.
The £1.34bn includes funding to operate and maintain the Core Valley Lines, north of Cardiff, which may be
transferred away from Network Rail.
Following cost overruns on the Great Western electrification scheme the UK Government has decided to fund enhancement schemes independently of Network Rail’s five-year funding rounds.
In its new strategic plan for Wales Network Rail warns of uncertainty over 14 potential schemes which it set out in 2016. “Following the UK Government announcement to cancel electrification from Cardiff to Swansea in June 2017, there are currently no committed enhancements within the Wales Route in CP6.”
The 14 schemes not included in the CP6 funding allocation include closing more level crossings, redeveloping Cardiff Central station to reflect growing passenger numbers, and increasing speed limits on several lines – including Cardiff to Swansea and the freight lines between Cardiff and Severn Tunnel Junction.
Prof Stuart Cole, of the University of South Wales, said those schemes and resignalling in north Wales and along the border would be funded from Network Rail’s £48bn settlement if Wales received its fair share.
“Our share of Great Britain expenditure is supposed to be 5%,” he said. “If we get less than that we’re not getting our fair share and we’ve got a lot of work to do on Welsh railways – not just on enhancements but on things like resignalling and traffic speeds – to bring them up to the standards of a thoroughly modern railway.”
He also argued Wales should get more than a pro rata share for CP6 to reflect current and previous underfunding and the challenges of climate change in a wet and hilly country where railway earthworks and other structures were particularly vulnerable to storm damage.
In 2013 Network Rail proposed to modernise signalling on the Newport to Shrewsbury line – linking south Wales to mid and north Wales, Crewe and Manchester – by 2016.
“This has now been abandoned,” says Network Rail’s strategic plan.
Network Rail also pledged in 2013 to renew signalling along the north Wales main line. Phase One, Chester to Llandudno, was due by 2015 and Phase Two, Llandudno Junction to Holyhead, by 2020.
The Phase One scheme was shortened to end at Colwyn Bay and will be completed this spring. The strategic plan for 2019-24 omits Phase Two. This leaves the short branch line to Llandudno reliant on two old signal boxes, whose staffing costs are deemed prohibitive on Sundays from September to April – despite Llandudno’s year-round tourism and conference trade.
It could also thwart the Welsh Government’s ambition of reopening the station at Llangefni, Anglesey’s county town. The required signalling and track alterations at Gaerwen would have been significantly cheaper as part of the overall scheme than if done separately.
The UK Government said the sharing out of the £48bn was a matter for Network Rail.
A Network Rail spokeswoman said the strategic business plan would drive economic growth, helping to connect people, businesses and communities, and was supported by stakeholders across Wales and Borders. It included works to Barmouth viaduct and further resignalling around Port Talbot.
“Our proposed record investment of £1.34bn across Wales and Borders is a reflection of the current condition of our infrastructure and the level of maintenance and renewals required as well as the cost of day to day operations,” she said.
“Comparing spend against the size of the route in simple percentage terms is a crude measure. We believe our plan supports our mission to run a safe, reliable, affordable and growing railway that better meets the needs of our customers and provides maximum value for taxpayers and our funders.”
Plaid Cymru transport spokesman Jonathan Edwards said: “Wales is being short-changed by Westminster who are happy to use Welsh taxpayers’ money to fund rail upgrades in England but refuse to let us invest in our own creaking rail infrastructure.
“They can’t even be bothered to electrify the railway line between Wales’ two largest cities and now they are breaking their promise of upgrading signalling in north Wales.
“Meanwhile Welsh taxpayers’ money is being used to fund the most expensive railway line in the world in HS2 and a £45bn Crossrail upgrade for one of the most well connected cities in the world.
“Why should the people of Wales put up with being told we can’t build a basic rail network for our own country when we have to pay for England’s excessive luxuries? It is a farce that in order to travel from the north to the south of Wales we have to leave the country first and come back in.
“If Westminster is so reluctant to invest in Welsh railways then they must give us the tools to do it ourselves. Devolving rail infrastructure would deliver an immediate boost of £1bn – enough to electrify the Cardiff-Swansea line twice with hundreds of millions of pounds left over.”
A UK Government spokesman said: “The UK Government is investing in the biggest modernisation programme of our railways since Victorian times to deliver the improvements passengers want to see – more frequent services and faster and more comfortable journeys.
“This draft plan by Network Rail sets out how it intends to improve the service for passengers over the next five-year investment period 2019-24 and will now be scrutinised by the Transport Secretary and the independent regulator to ensure the plans are efficient, effective, and offer value for money.
“With billions of pounds being invested in our transport network it is vital we continue to drive efficiency and innovation. Network Rail is not the only rail infrastructure manager capable of delivering big enhancement projects and we will look to use external organisations where they can deliver better value for both passengers and taxpayers.”
Last night a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We have set out our expectations of the business planning process and we will continue to work with Network Rail Wales and regulators to make the case for a fair allocation of funding for rail infrastructure in Wales”
> The redevelopment of Cardiff Central train station is not included in the new funding plan