Wales wants a fair share of rail cash
PEOPLE across Wales will ask themselves what it will take for the nation to get the transport infrastructure it not only deserves but needs if it is to escape its present deprivation.
There was disappointment and frustration last year when the electrification of the Great Western line to Swansea was cancelled and there are fears that vital work will not go ahead during Network Rail’s next five-year funding period.
Radical and urgent improvement in transport links is required to plug isolated communities into the UK economy and allow our most prosperous cities to grow. It is ludicrous how difficult it remains to travel either east-west or northsouth.
As Brexit looms and the challenge of winning international investment threatens to become even tougher, Wales needs the brakes taken off.
Improvements in education and skills, air links and broadband are desperately needed, but the importance of rail cannot be overstated. The dreadful services experienced by too many citizens are not just a choke on commerce but an appalling statement to the rest of Britain and the world; it suggests that Wales both lacks decent infrastructure and the political clout to win investment.
Such an impression will be challenged by government ministers who are excited that the Severn Crossing tolls will end this year and have high ambitions for improved services in north Wales; supporters of metro schemes in south Wales hope that a new era in economic opportunity will shortly begin for people across the region.
Wales is not devoid of encouraging projects and leaders at every level of business and government are working hard to improve routes and stations. But a programme of gradual enhancement will not deliver the turbo-charging the economy needs; we need to move from alleviating problems to building game-changing infrastructure.
If we don’t, we risk passing onto our children a nation which today has a Gross Value Added that is 17% below the UK average and a position at the bottom of the earnings table. Thousands of young people will leave Wales out of economic necessity unless we can deliver jobs that are professionally and financially rewarding.
Network Rail’s Wales Route would receive in the region of £2.4bn if £48bn in funding was shared out according to population; £2.9bn would be coming our way if it was allocated according to track mileage.
But, instead, the Wales Route will receive a mere £1.34bn.
Critics can argue that it is crude and arbitrary to assign funding according to population or track but anyone who has followed the electrification saga will have little confidence in the decision-making process in Whitehall. Demand will surely grow for Wales to have the cash and the powers to make its own decisions.
The debacle over the M4 relief road shows that devolution is no guarantee of speedy progress, but a keen sense that this nation is being short-changed will fuel a desire to gain access to the control room. The Western Mail newspaper is published by Media Wales a subsidiary company of Trinity Mirror PLC, which is a member of IPSO, the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The entire contents of The Western Mail are the copyright of Media Wales Ltd. It is an offence to copy any of its contents in any way without the company’s permission. If you require a licence to copy parts of it in any way or form, write to the Head of Finance at Six Park Street. The recycled paper content of UK newspapers in 2016 was 62.8%