Crossing the border: road and rail links between England and Wales - Welsh Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1.  The 160 mile border between Wales and England is often described as "porous". This is understandable. 90% of the Welsh population lives within 50 miles of the English border. 30% of the combined English and Welsh population—some 16 million people—live within 50 miles of the border. As a result, there is a huge degree of travel between England and Wales throughout the year, be it commuters, business people, freight or leisure seekers. Some 138 million journeys take place each year on roads and trains across the border, an average of 2.6 million journeys each week.[1] These are primarily centred on two transport corridors between South Wales and the South of England, and North Wales and North West England.

2.  The Welsh and English economies and geographies are highly integrated and good transport connections to England—particularly to London, Birmingham and the cities in the North West—are extremely important for the Welsh economy. A variety of transport groups, business and freight companies, as well as local government representatives, told us in evidence that these roads and rail routes were vital for Wales, for economic and commercial reasons. Cross-border transport is also particularly important for tourism, with the vast majority of tourists making overnight stays in Wales coming from elsewhere in the UK.[2] As we noted in our previous Report on Inward Investment in Wales, poor transport infrastructure can have a detrimental effect on both domestic and overseas investment. We concluded that transport infrastructure in Wales had been under-funded by the UK Government and the Welsh Government for a number of years.[3]

Key cross-border road and rail links

3.  The main road and rail routes between England and Wales are:


  • M4/M48: South Wales to Bristol/London;
  • A55 and onward motorway links: North Wales to Manchester/London;
  • A55, A548 and A550: North East Wales to Cheshire/Merseyside; and
  • A483, A458, A44 and onward motorway links: Mid Wales to Shrewsbury/Birmingham


  • Great Western Main Line: London and Bristol to Cardiff and Swansea (services currently operated by First Group);
  • North Wales Main Line: Crewe to Holyhead in North-West Wales (Arriva Trains Wales and Virgin);
  • "North and West" route: between Newport and Shrewsbury, linking South Wales with Manchester and also facilitating through-trains between North and South Wales (Arriva Trains Wales);
  • Borderlands Line: Wrexham to Bidston (Arriva Trains Wales);
  • Cambrian Line: Birmingham and Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth and Pwhelli (Arriva Trains Wales), and
  • Chepstow route: South Wales to Cheltenham and Birmingham (Arriva CrossCountry and Arriva Trains Wales).

A map showing the key transport infrastructure in Wales, including cross-border road and rail links, is printed on page 7.

Map: Key transport infrastructure in Wales

Source: Welsh Government

Responsibility for cross-border links

4.  Responsibility for cross-border transport links between England and Wales is shared between the Department for Transport (DfT), Welsh Government and local authorities.

5.  For rail services:

  • the DfT manages three cross-border rail franchises between England and Wales and is also wholly responsible for funding rail infrastructure improvements for both England and Wales, and
  • the Welsh Government is responsible for specifying and funding the Wales and Borders franchise which runs all services wholly within Wales, in addition to several cross-border routes.

For the road network:

  • the Highways Agency, acting on behalf of the UK Government, is responsible for the motorways and main trunk network in England;
  • two trunk road agencies, acting on behalf of the Welsh Government, are responsible for the motorway and main trunk network in Wales, and
  • local authorities are responsible for local roads within their boundaries.

The UK Government provides funds for road improvements in Wales only where a project crosses the border.

Our inquiry

6.  Our predecessor Committee held an inquiry during the last Parliament into the cross-border provision of road, rail and air transport between England and Wales.[4] The Committee called for electrification of cross-border rail lines, and recommended that the DfT take ownership of strategic responsibility for cross-border roads.[5] The Committee highlighted problems in co-ordination between the Welsh and UK Governments, which could mean improvements to cross-border links were held back because they were not priorities for either the DfT or English local authorities.

7.  To follow up on these issues, and to assess new transport proposals that stand to affect Wales such as High Speed Two (HS2), we launched an inquiry in March 2012 to investigate the adequacy of cross-border road and rail links between England and Wales.[6] We received 28 written submissions, and held four oral evidence sessions, including one in Aberystwyth, with regional transport groups, freight and business representatives, Network Rail, the DfT and the Welsh Government. We also visited the South Wales Rail Operating Centre in Cardiff and the South Wales Road Traffic Management Centre in Coryton. We were assisted by our specialist rail adviser Richard Goldson, a former non-executive board member at the Office of Rail Regulation.[7] We are grateful to all who have contributed to our inquiry.

1   National Rail Trends 2010-11, ORR and Ev w5 Back

2   'Tourism sector', Welsh Government, 17 July 2012 Back

3   Welsh Affairs Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2010-12, Inward Investment in Wales, HC 854-i Back

4   The Committee decided to focus on road and rail links between England and Wales for this inquiry. The National Assembly for Wales recently published a report on international connectivity through Welsh ports and airports in July 2012. Back

5   Welsh Affairs Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2008-09, Cross-border provision of public services for Wales: Transport, HC 58 Back

6   Our terms of reference were to look at: the extent to which cross-border public road and rail services are currently provided for and accessed by the Welsh population; the arrangements currently in place to co-ordinate cross-border road and rail transport service provision; the potential impact on Wales of the plans for a High Speed 2 (HS2) Rail Service between London, the Midlands and North of England; the funding of cross-border transport infrastructure, and the progress made on improving co-ordination between the Welsh Government and Department for Transport on cross-boundary issues and matters of strategic importance. Back

7   Richard Goldson made declarations of interests which can be found in the formal minutes of the Welsh Affairs Committee, Session 2012-2013, Appendix B. Back

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Prepared 6 March 2013