Wales wants a fair share of rail cash

Western Mail - - WM2 -

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%

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