Minister calls for a clear timetable for rail devolution

(Title Image: Transport for Wales, copyright free)

Yesterday, the Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South), published the Welsh Government’s vision for the future development of rail services (pdf).

Appropriate devolution settlement

Rail infrastructure and rail funding are currently not devolved to Wales, but the government’s vision is largely based on the presumption that a strong case has been made for the powers and budgets to be devolved in the coming years.

Asset transfer of the core Valley lines is due to be completed “imminently” meaning delivery of the South Wales Metro is still on time.

While the Minister recognised that some functions were better managed at a UK level – cross-border timetables, freight access and safety standards amongst them – there was no excuse for powers to continue to be retained by the UK Government.

“I have every reason to believe that our case has been heard, and that further devolution to the Welsh Government will be recommended. I now expect the UK Government to reflect our requirements, meet our expectations, and set a clear pathway, timeline and programme for full devolution of our railways. I expect the UK Government to meet their commitment to publishing a White Paper this autumn, and we stand ready to work with them on its implementation.”
– Economy & Transport Minister, Ken Skates

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery) said that lofty ideals were all well and good, but most rail passengers will be asking: “What about now?” Many people won’t choose to travel by rail because the services are so unreliable. He challenged assertions of under-investment by the UK Government; £2billion is set to be spent by Network Rail in Wales between 2019-2024.

Rhun ap Iorwerth AM (Plaid, Ynys Môn) reflected on the consensus built up in the Senedd that rail budgets and powers should be devolved after years of chronic under-investment – relative to the proportion of the UK network that exists in Wales. He did bring up the issue of toilets on new tram-trains, to which the Minister said:

Absolute determination

Alun Davies AM (Lab, Blaenau Gwent) said one thing that united people around the chamber was the “absolute determination” that Wales deserves better in terms of funding for, and powers over, rail. He called for more services in the Ebbw valley and a new station for Abertillery – projects the Minister said were due to be delivered by 2024.

Dr Hefin David AM (Lab, Caerphilly) mentioned a lack of seats on Rhymney valley services and wanted confirmation that toilets will be on new trains (not tram-trains) due to be run on the line. The Minister confirmed new Rhymney valley trains will have toilets.

John Griffiths AM (Lab, Newport East) asked about a Magor station and Huw Irranca-Davies AM (Lab, Ogmore) asked for an update on Maesteg Sunday services and potentially increased service frequencies.

The Minister told them the Magor “walkway” plans (which didn’t make it to the shortlist of new station) had enormous potential but the government’s hands were tied, while he promised to chase up news from Network Rail on Maesteg services.

In response to a question from Jack Sargeant AM (Lab, Alyn & Deeside), the Minister said passenger numbers on the Halton Curve service between north Wales and Liverpool have been higher than expected.

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