Tuesday, October 31, 2017


So Arriva (Deutsche Bahn) have withdrawn from the next Wales franchise – as a regular victim of Arriva trains, I shall not miss them. This leaves Netherlands State Railways, French State Railways and Hong Kong State Metro as the three remaining contenders – all of whom (just like most of the other franchise holders will rake in the profits to fund investments and cheap rail fares in their home countries; so which idiot decided that privatisation of the railways was a winner anyway?

Our relationship with railways in Wales is a little odd, there is a tendency to focus on anniversaries of rail closures or rail events rather than anniversaries of openings. This may well be because for all of the twentieth century transport policy was something that was done to us rather than done for us. I mention this, because I noticed that a plaque was unveiled (back in 2011) to mark the 154th anniversary of the arrival of the railway in Knighton (Powys).

The 22-mile section of the Heart of Wales line from Craven Arms, Shropshire, to Knighton, which was constructed in 1861, and probably for fear of political consequences, managed to avoid being closed in the 1950’s and 1960’s, is truly spectacular.  A £5m project, which upgraded parts of this rural railway, was finished in 2010, reinstating five passing loops at Knighton, Llandrindod Wells and Llanwrtyd Wells in Powys, and at Llandovery and Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire. This small positive step, could, with extra services,  the restoration of railway halts lead to a much more regular better used rail service.

The current somewhat weak and shaky Conservative Westminster Government and the former New Labour Government in Cardiff need to get serious about developing integrated public transport across the valleys and the south east and beyond. For more than a few years Plaid in Monmouth has called for improvements to existing services and facilities and a series of feasibility studies to investigate re-opening previously closed railways as has happened in Scotland.

We face a future where cheap fuel will be a thing of the past, so we need to ensure that all our communities have reasonable access to a reliable cheap system of integrated public transport, at the heart of which needs to be our long neglected rail network. The old excuses about a lack of funding (despite the banking related financial crisis) are no longer acceptable; Wales makes up 5% of the population of the UK, and makes contributions to the exchequer – given the vast expenditure on Crossrail and HS2, that Wales gets 5% of the UK transport spend, and full control of our transport planning and our transport budget.

A post bexit devolutionary half-way house just won't work anymore; it will not deliver or even give us the chance to deliver, even with legislative powers. The changes and reforms that are necessary to fix the problems in our country means that we need the tools to do the job. It didn't work with a nominally Labour Government and was never going to work with a Conservative dominated Government which is indifferent to any concept of devolution in particular and the needs of Wales in particular.

Even with legislative powers and a gesture of financial control and taxation, we still remain in some sort of half devolved limbo state of governance, lacking a fair financial settlement. Let's be honest with ourselves, with all the best will in the world this is not going to work well, even with an inert and visionless self-serving former New Labour government in Cardiff that is confortable not rocking the boat.  To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, real governance can no more be half devolved anymore than someone can be half free or half dry.

Wales needs a fair financial settlement and real powers so we can construct a decent system of integrated public transport. This has happened in Scotland (regardless of which political party was in government) significant strides have been made to reopen, redevelop and build a coherent and integrated public transport system. In Wales in the last sixteen years there have been two railway re-openings carried out by Network Rail at the request of the National Assembly; the Vale of Glamorgan Railway Line (re-opened on Friday 10th June 2005) and the Ebbw Valley Railway Line (partially re-opened on Wednesday 6th February 2008).

To be brutally honest these were administrative rather than legislative projects, this has not been the case in Scotland, where bills and vigorous campaigns to reopen old railways were vigorously debated, scrutinised, amended and passed by the Scottish Parliament. If we are serious about integrated public transport then we are going to have to get serious about how we are going to develop and redevelop our existing and underinvested public transport infrastructure.

The Transport (Wales) Act in February 2006 gave us powers to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system, how long do we have to wait to see some vision? In the meantime the rail companies have been busy ramping up rail fares, while reducing rail services, all with the tacit co-operation of the Westminster Government’s and the Department for transport (in London) and both Welsh Labour and Welsh Conservative MPs at Westminster voted against the devolution of that portion of rail track within Wales – that would have enabled work on our railways to be planned and actually carried out.  .

Such duplicity has never been acceptable - it’s time for our government in Cardiff to take the long term view, to bite the bullet and actually put its money where its mouth is and work to redevelop our rail services, boost the development of rail freight and to co-ordinate rail and bus services across the whole of Wales. To do this effectively Wales needs to have full control of it's transport policy and transport budget devolved as quickly as possible and the franchise when it is renewed it should be run on a not for dividend profit basis.

If the Governments in London and Cardiff are really serious about cutting carbon emissions and reducing road congestion then we need work to get heavy goods back onto our railways. There is no quick fix, but, the time for excuses is over, we need to plan for the future. This may not be cheap but it can be done if the political will is there, as has happened in Scotland, where there is a useful combination of the will, the funding and interested private partners.

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