Ken Skates AM, Cabinet Secretary for Economy & Infrastructure
The Secretary of State for Transport has today issued a High Level Output Specification and an initial Statement of Funds Available for rail infrastructure across England and Wales during the 2019-2024 period.
I have been making the case for investment in our rail network clear to the Secretary of State for Transport over many months. I have also been urging the Secretary of State for Wales to work within the UK Government to achieve the right outcomes for us.
I am extremely disappointed with today’s announcements that not only provide no commitment from the UK Government to enhance our rail network in the 2019-2024 period, but also roll back on the commitment to electrify the line between Cardiff and Swansea.
It is enormously disappointing that UK Ministers chose to brief the press instead of Welsh Ministers in advance of their decision to back-track on their promise to modernise the mainline in south Wales, and chose to try to bury this bad news at the very end of the parliamentary session.
Since delivery of the scheme was originally delayed from the current investment period to the 2019-24 period, we have repeatedly called for the UK Government to clarify the timescales for electrification of the Great Western Mainline through to Swansea. This scheme would have delivered significant and much-needed improvements to journeys between Wales’ two largest cities and to the communities along the route.
The improvements passengers and businesses had been promised by the UK Government when the scheme was announced in 2012. The UK Government’s decision will constrain joint efforts to fully decarbonise the transport network.
It is clear to me that we cannot continue to allow the UK Government to continue to renege on their commitments and disadvantage economic growth in Wales. Devolution of powers and a proportionate funding settlement in this area must now be progressed so that we can ensure that our rail infrastructure gets the funding it needs to deliver the fast, reliable and frequent services needed to support our communities and businesses, and to grow our economy.
Although Wales and the Marches area has around 11 per cent of the railway track in England and Wales, since 2011 the area has only benefited from around 1.5 per cent of the money spent by the UK Government on rail enhancements. This is unacceptable and is damaging to our economy and to our communities.
It is simply unfair that the people of Wales are repeatedly disadvantaged so that railway spending can be focussed on improvements which predominantly benefit the south east of England.
Passengers in Wales experience poor network reliability, low speeds, and capacity constraints which results in a much smaller proportion of people being able to choose to travel by train than in England and Scotland.
Today’s news come on top of the Department for Transport’s decision to delay the issue of the new Wales and Borders rail service tender as a result of its own failure to fully devolve franchising powers to Wales within the agreed timescale.
Taken together, the failure to meet promises to invest in or railway infrastructure and the failure to meet promises to devolve powers already agreed underline the need for a radically new and lasting settlement for rail where Wales can determine its own future without relying on broken promise after broken promise from UK Government.