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Written Statement - Rail Services in Wales

Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure
In 2018, we will take over full responsibility for the Wales and Borders’ Rail Service.  In the meantime we are continuing to work with the current operator, Arriva Trains Wales and with Network Rail to identify options for providing additional capacity on busy services.

We are also committed to a continuing programme of rail modernisation of Wales’ rail infrastructure and will continue to press the UK Government for timely action on this.

As part of my commitment to drive improved performance of train services in Wales, I regularly meet with Network Rail and with Arriva Train Wales on a separate basis to discuss current issues and future plans.

Late last year I met with both companies to challenge them to find new ways to collectively address the poor service issues faced by passengers in Wales. To meet this challenge an Operations and Governance Board was established, charged to take forward joint working on delivering improved performance across the Wales Route. The Board has now met twice and some early and encouraging progress is being made on identifying opportunities to deliver better performance for passengers.

Earlier this month I met with Andy Thomas, Managing Director of the Network Rail Wales Route, to discuss the rail service. We agreed that customer service and passenger benefits should be at the forefront of our thinking when we develop and deliver rail projects in Wales. I welcome the establishment of Network Rail’s Wales route, and the increased autonomy it has.  Andy and his team are now more able to focus more specifically on our challenges, and I am encouraged with progress.

However, the continued opposition by UK Government to greater and fairer devolution of budgets and powers over rail infrastructure continue to dis-advantage Wales, which sees far lower levels of investment in critical rail infrastructure than other parts of the UK.  This government will therefore continue to urge the UK Government to commit to greater rail devolution as was recommended by the Commission on Devolution in Wales.  
Tellingly, where there has been investment, for instance in the new signalling system in South East Wales, we have seen an improvement in the performance on the Valley Lines. This level of investment needs to be made across the Welsh rail network so that all rail users in our country can benefit from improving performance.

I welcome the announcement by Arriva Trains Wales to increase capacity on the Valley Lines, effectively doubling capacity on some of the busiest services into Cardiff.

I also welcome the planning between Arriva Train Wales and Network Rail to overcome the leaf fall issues which plagued the network last Autumn. In particular, I note the work that has been undertaken on the Wrexham-Bidston line such as regular line inspections and the vegetation management plan that is in place.

Our investment in the £49.1m project to enhance the Wrexham to Chester railway line, delivered by Network Rail, is entering the final stages. Network Rail has confirmed that the infrastructure will be commissioned over the next few months.

We have also been examining options to increase capacity and improve flexibility on the line between Wrexham and Chester and at the stations using the £10m funding announced by the previous Government.

Network Rail and the UK Government are developing the Wales Route’s plan for Control Period 6 and I have made it clear that it is essential we are integrally involved in the development of the plan.  Since 2011, the UK Government has spent in the Wales and Borders area only around one per cent of money it has made available for rail enhancement schemes although it accounts for around 6% of the UK’s rail network

This is clearly unacceptable and we want to see a fair share of rail enhancement expenditure to be directed towards Wales in the future. In particular, fairer funding to enable the redevelopment of Cardiff Central station, which is key to our ambitions for the South Wales Metro. I call again for UK Government to show leadership and work in partnership with both the private and public sector to invest in a radical overhaul of Wales’ busiest station.  Delivering this priority along with the modernisation of the north Wales main-line and the honouring of the commitment to electrify services between Cardiff and Swansea are the very least which we expect from the UK Government’s next funding round.