Edwina Hart, Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
Members will be aware that in November 2013, I convened a Ministerial Task Force on North Wales Transport to provide me with advice on how North Wales can take advantage of rail modernisation, improving transport connectivity and improving the effectiveness of transport improvements and services in the region.
That work has now been completed and I am grateful to the Chair, the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty and the Members drawn from representatives of the local authorities, enterprise zones and the private sector in North Wales for their report. The report contains 23 recommendations building on the recommendations made in previous reports - including Dr Elizabeth Haywood’s Dee Region Cross Border Economy Report and the report of the North East Wales Integrated Transport Task Force.
I am today publishing that report and my detailed response to each of the 23 recommendations, and, having given consideration to the report, I can now outline my priorities for rail in the region.
I will shortly be submitting the Strategic Outline Business Case for the electrification of the North Wales Coast Mainline to the Department for Transport. In pressing the case for electrification in North Wales, I am considering the line between Holyhead and Crewe as a whole. A stand alone scheme for Crewe to Chester and for Chester to Warrington would otherwise result in significant dis-benefits forcing passengers to change at Chester and resulting in an economic loss of over £260m to the Welsh economy and over £210m to the English economy. The recent report by the North of England electrification task force made clear that schemes to Chester needed to be considered as part of a wider scheme to north Wales.
I have asked Dr Elizabeth Haywood to engage with local authorities and businesses in North Wales to elicit support for the case for electrification of the main line.
Electrification is only part of my vision for a wider rail modernisation programme. Cross border movements by rail have an important economic role to play to maximise opportunities from rail investments in the North of England and North Wales areas. My officials have examined the feasibility of extending cross-Pennine services into North Wales and we are working with Merseytravel to develop the case for upgrading the Halton Curve which would significantly improve connectivity between Liverpool and North Wales.
The network constraints between Wrexham and Chester present significant barriers to achieving the desired rail connectivity for Wrexham. I have sought support from the Secretary of State for Transport in directing Network Rail to undertake development work with a view to providing further network capacity between Wrexham and Chester. My officials will be working with Network Rail to ensure that this development work progresses at pace so that the investment costs and scale of the benefits to be delivered as a result of further investment inform future decisions. I have ensured that the case for this scheme is investigated, as well as other improvements in North Wales such as line speed improvements, for inclusion in the Wales Route Study being undertaken by Network Rail which was published for consultation on 4 March 2015.
In December 2014, I published my draft National Transport Plan for consultation. The Plan outlines a range of interventions and investments to improve transport links across Wales, including regional priorities. Within the Plan, I have made commitments to improve stations, investigate possibilities for new stations, improve network capacity, reduce journey times and enable more frequent services.
We have made significant progress in our discussions with the Department for Transport to determine our future role in rail franchising. I have established a clear framework setting out the work that needs to be undertaken to ensure a smooth transfer of responsibility for rail franchising by early 2017. I will shortly announce the new Strategic Advisory Board which will guide our work on the next Wales and Borders Franchise. This is an opportunity to design Welsh rail services that better support our wider economic and social ambitions.
A copy of the final report by my Ministerial Task Force on North Wales Transport, together with my response, will be published on the Welsh Government’s website.