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Written Statement - Rail Priorities

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We want to improve rail services for passengers and freight in Wales.
Edwina Hart, Minister for Economy, Science and Transport

In my Written Statement of 10 July I highlighted my key road projects for delivery and committed to update further on rail infrastructure priorities.

The railway provides an important means of connectivity to serve the needs of businesses, people and communities.  While the funding of rail infrastructure is currently a matter for the Secretary of State for Transport, railway infrastructure has a role in facilitating the success of long-term economic planning and investment.

This is why the Welsh Government’s approach has been to invest to bridge the gap in funding made available for the rail network in Wales provided by the UK Government. Our investment in rail capital projects and franchise services enables rail to play its part in promoting economic growth, enabling greater access to jobs and services, and reducing poverty for the people of Wales.

Following the assessment of delivery priorities referred to in my statement of 10 July, I can confirm that I will deliver our current programme of rail capital investment which includes:

  • new stations at Energlyn, Ebbw Vale Town and Pye Corner.
  • capacity enhancements and improvements at Tir Phil, Maesteg, Pontypridd, and supporting the Cardiff Area Signalling Renewal scheme (CASR).
  • station improvements at Cardiff Queen Street and Central, Barry, Pontypridd and Caerphilly (in association with Network Rail’s CASR); and at Port Talbot Parkway, Aberystwyth, Ystrad Mynach, Rhyl and Llandudno (under the Wales National Stations Improvement Programme).

A significant amount of work is under way on the Valley Lines electrification project to develop the proposal from that presented in the outline business case.  To secure value for money I am exploring all options for procuring the rolling stock required, including refurbished and new options, looking at whole life costs and the wider economic benefits.

By the end of this year I expect a more detailed report on the potential service timetable and rolling stock options, coupled with further work on the infrastructure costs from Network Rail. This work will inform how the electrification project is taken forward.

I will also continue to press the UK Government to ensure the maximum benefits in Wales from the electrification of the Great Western Mainline.

Electrification brings significant potential to introduce transformational change to the transport system in South East Wales.  To capture this opportunity I have commissioned Mark Barry to carry out further work to develop the Metro concept.

Electrification also provides the potential for opportunities for employment and for growing supply chains through local sourcing of skills and materials, for improving our skills base in, for example, electrical engineering, and in securing community benefits.  I have asked Network Rail to work closely with me to maximise these benefits in Wales.

I recognise the importance of long-term improvements to the North Wales rail network to the region’s economy, and I will press ahead with the development of the business case for its modernisation.

In the short-term, taking account of the recommendations of the North East Wales Task Force on Integrated Transport, I have asked officials to work with MerseyTravel and others with a view to improving rail connections between the North Wales coast and Liverpool.

In developing this agenda for rail, as I said in my 10 July Statement, I am seeking to maximise value for money and the impact from our investment in public transport. In that regard, I shall be reviewing the processes and decision making behind the rail infrastructure project to reduce North - South journey times and redouble the railway between Wrexham and Saltney. The Welsh Government committed to this project in 2008 and contracted Network Rail to deliver it, but the project has been significantly delayed.

I will continue to press the UK Government to commit to capital investment in our rail network, as it is required to do.  Even after projects such as electrification, journey times will remain lengthy for long distance journeys, and in many cases line speeds still need to be addressed. Many of our stations remain dilapidated, inaccessible and could not be described as fit for the 21st Century.  In the mean time I will continue to explore how other funding might become available to support investment, such as structural funds.

In addition to capital budgets being increasingly constrained following UK Government budget decisions, revenue budgets are under considerable pressure. The Welsh Government prioritised a series of rail service enhancements in 2011 on the basis of the revenue budgets being available. A consequence of the challenging economic climate and in-year revenue reductions from the UK Government is that I must be realistic about our ability to provide the funding for new or additional services.

In response I am considering whether there are more cost effective opportunities to work with local community groups to deliver new and additional services. For example, I met members of the Heart of Wales Line Forum and a number of Assembly Members recently to discuss plans they are exploring for different management arrangements and a better alignment of services with the needs of people and communities.  I shall continue to work with them on that.

I am committed to improving transport services in Mid Wales. In terms of the Cambrian Main Line hourly service, the way is clear for an operator to introduce additional services though it is important to be mindful of the tough financial settlement we are facing.  I have asked the Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth Railway Liaison Committee to co-ordinate work with the other rail interest groups to investigate the demand for rail services. I will also consider the strategic role of the Marches line between Newport and Shrewsbury/Wrexham. I have been clear that this should complement the work of the Local Growth Zones and be consistent with the tourism strategy.

Accordingly, initially for the Cambrian Line and the Heart of Wales Line, my tourism sector panel will provide a view on the feasibility of proposals for summer tourist trains on a trial basis. I will make an announcement for summer 2014 in due course.

It is vital that we set things right for the future. I am focusing work on securing the right arrangements and specification for the next Wales and Borders franchise. I have been clear that we can not afford to be in the same position where the terms of a franchise agreement limit our ability to react to a changing economic climate and provide services where they are required.