Investing in our transport infrastructure is vital as we look to improve the economic competitiveness of Wales.
And a key plank of developing our transport infrastructure in Wales is the electrification of both the Valley lines network and Great Western Main Line to Swansea.
To put it simply full rail electrification is the fundamental building block of our plans to modernise the transport system in south Wales.
However, the responsibility for rail infrastructure is non-devolved so in Wales we rely on the UK Government – not the Welsh Government - to deliver rail improvements. To be clear about this, we do not receive any funding from UK Government for the development of our rail infrastructure.
Later this year the UK Government will be announcing its rail investment programme for the five years 2014 - 2019. It is considering improvement projects costing over £9 billion for that period.
For Wales, we expect the UK Government to fund investment in electrification of around £0.5 billion.
I feel very strongly that there is a sound business case for our rail electrification proposals in Wales – far stronger than many rail schemes that have already been funded by the UK Government in England.
The Valley Lines, for example, make a compelling case for modernisation. Passenger demand on the Valley Lines is outpacing demand on most other parts of the UK rail network so it will have to modernise in order meet these needs.
Newer trains will be required and the most efficient trains are electric ones – therefore it makes sense to electrify the lines.
Anybody who’s been on an electric train will notice that they’re faster, quieter and cleaner. Another key factor in its favour is that they are far cheaper to run compared to the ageing diesel fleet that the UK Government specified in the last franchise.
Our very detailed business case demonstrates that electrification is the only viable option for the future of our rail infrastructure as there would be massive increases in costs to invest in a new fleet of diesel trains and their ongoing running costs.
People travelling on the Maesteg, Treherbert, Aberdare, Merthyr, Rhymney Valley, Ebbw Vale and Vale of Glamorgan lines deserve a modern train service which is afforded to people in other parts of the UK. All of the Valley Lines network should be electrified.
We fundamentally disagree with UK Government’s definition of the Valley Lines network, as it is seeking to exclude the Maesteg, Ebbw Vale and Vale of Glamorgan lines from its plans.
The people living in these communities deserve to be included and not excluded.
Turning to the Great Western Main Line, there is a compelling case for keeping the “Great” in the “Great Western” by electrifying to Swansea which is, and always has been, the starting point for services in the modern age.
Cardiff is not the end of the line or the end of our ambitions for economic prosperity in Wales.
Our proposal to electrify the rail line down to Swansea is far better value for money to the taxpayer as the UK Government looks to replace the InterCity train fleet. By using electric trains to run from Swansea – Paddington, you avoid the need for more expensive, UK Government proposed, bi-mode trains that run on both electric and diesel.
The estimated cost of electrifying the whole of the Valleys Lines network is £450 million. This compares to the Secretary of State for Transport’s announcement of UK Government investment of £32.7 billion in the High Speed Rail network between London and Birmingham (including tunnels), and later northwards. In this context what we are asking for is hardly unreasonable, just a fair deal for Wales.
UK Government Ministers have suggested in the past that we should use European Convergence funding to help meet some of the costs of electrification. To be clear, this funding has always been used to ‘top-up’ spending programmes funded by the Welsh Government. I strongly believe that it is unacceptable for the UK Government to expect us to spend our money on their responsibilities.
Later today I will be meeting the Cross Party Group on Rail Electrification to emphasise these points and reinforce my commitment to seeing the full rail electrification for Wales.
If we are to develop economically as a nation the electrification of both the Valley lines network and Great Western Main Line to Swansea is paramount. Rest assured I will continue to stress this issue to the UK Government at every opportunity.