The Welsh Affairs Committee has had a long-standing interest in the provision of rail services in Wales. This Report revisits those services, concentrating on intercity services, the award and proposals for the new Wales and Borders franchise, and the division of powers between Westminster and Wales.
There are many challenges facing the rail industry in respect of the South Wales Main Line. While the Report welcomes the forthcoming route strategy for the Great Western Main Line proposed by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), (Para 28), it recommends a new high speed link between England and South Wales and the possibility of a second rail crossing between Wales and England be included in that route strategy (Paras 18 and 35).
The current service levels provided by First Great Western are welcomed, but the Report concludes that a later evening service between the capitals of England and Wales should be introduced at the earliest opportunity (Paras 10 and 15).
The Report highlights the comparatively slow line speeds on the North Wales Main Line. It recommends that the SRA assess the cost of committing to an increase in the line speed for that line. It also recommends that electrification of the line be part of that costing exercise. The Report argues that should that costing exercise prove value for money line speed increases and electrification should be included as part of the rebuilding of the West Coast Main Line (Paras 45 and 48).
The Report also noted that EU funding could be made available for the North Wales Main Line and recommends that the Secretary of State for Wales push for such funding at Westminster and in Europe (Para 53).
The Report considers the award of the Wales and Borders franchise to Arriva Trains. It broadly welcomes the franchise process, but concludes that greater transparency in the process could have been achieved (Paras 62 to 71). It welcomes the initiatives proposed by Arriva Trains which have the potential to provide an enhanced rail service for Wales. In particular the Report welcomes the proposals for a clock face time-table, and the use of Shrewsbury and Carmarthen as hubs for their operations.(Paras 77 to 85) However, it is not convinced that the SRA has provided sufficient funds for the franchise and recommends that funding levels be revisited (Paras 72 to 75).
The Report also expresses its disappointment that funding has been provided to improve only fifteen stations during the lifetime of the franchise. In the absence of SRA funding it recommends that Arriva explore other avenues to improve the fabric of train stations and expects a commitment from Arriva that those duties would not be ignored in the running of the franchise (Paras 91 to 95).
Rail transport is central to an integrated transport policy. The Report welcomes the discussions between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government on a future Transport Bill for Wales. It recommends that powers of guidance and direction over the SRA in relation to the Wales and Borders franchise, and the power to appoint one or more members of the SRA be included in any such Bill. It also recommends that the Department of Transport examine the possibility of conferring on the National Assembly, powers to enable it to appoint statutory consortia of passenger transport boards should that prove to be beneficial to an integrated transport policy for Wales (Paras 107 to 126).