Welsh Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from the Department for Transport

Introduction

1. The Department for Transport (DfT) welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence to the Welsh Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the provision of cross-border public transport services for Wales.

2. We understand that the inquiry will examine:

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.

3. The evidence submitted below covers these areas in relation to policy on rail and roads.

Progress made on Improving Co-ordination between the Welsh Government and Department for Transport on Cross-boundary issues and Matters of Strategic Importance

4. Relationships between the Welsh Government Transport Group and the Department for Transport have advanced significantly, and new processes have been agreed to continue this development. Fundamentally, both sides now operate on a “no surprises” basis, where appropriate information is shared during policy development to ensure that the wider implications are understood.

5. The aim is for the Welsh Government and the Department for Transport to have in place a constructive working relationship that enables officials to provide their Ministers with the best advice possible in order to deliver the aspirations of the respective Governments. This includes recognition of the importance of engaging on devolved and reserved issues.

6. Working relationships between Welsh Government Transport Group and the Department for Transport continue to develop through a range of mechanisms including Ministerial and high level official meetings; a twice yearly High Level forum to discuss strategic issues and monitor working relations between the two administrations; regular bi-laterals; and ad hoc policy lead liaison.

7. Specific examples of joint collaborative working between officials include:

(a)Salt: improved process and communication channels to ensure that appropriate resilience plans are in place to deal with harsh winter weather.

(b)Rail: close working during the development of the Outline Business Case for electrification of the Great Western Line between Swansea and Cardiff, and the Valley Lines, including the sharing of DfT economist support, and regular interaction between project sponsors.

(c)Legislation: work on proposals for HGV charging to bring about a constructive conclusion and ensure that the necessary legislation can be put in place.

Railways

Cross-border services

8. Wales is served by the following passenger rail franchises: First Great Western; Virgin Trains; Cross Country and Arriva Trains Wales.

9. The Wrexham, Shropshire & Marylebone Railway non-franchised direct services between Wrexham and London via Shrewsbury have ceased operating.

10. In 2009–10 there were over 26 million passenger journeys to, from or within Wales.1 30.8% of those journeys crossed the border. The most significant journey flows were to/from the South West of England (8.5%); London (7.8%); the North West (6.2%); the West Midlands (4%); and the South East of England (2.2%).

Co-ordination of cross-border service provision

11. Since the implementation of the Railways Act 2005 a range of procedures has been put in place between DfT and WG to facilitate the co-ordination of services procured by both administrations. These include:

the statutory obligation to consult the Welsh Government Ministers before issuing an invitation to tender for a franchise agreement which includes services to/from Wales. (Where a franchise provides services wholly within Wales, WG Ministers must be a signatory, as in the case of ATW);

the creation of the Cross-Border Forum of English local authorities whose areas are served by the ATW franchise. This forum provides the opportunity for these English local authorities to have a dialogue with WG about ATW’s cross-border services, which are specified and funded by WG. DfT is represented on the Forum; and

regular meetings between DfT and WG officials to discuss the cross-border franchises.

Department for Transport and Welsh Government respective responsibilities

12. The Department for Transport (DfT) is responsible for:

specifying and funding, through the High Level Output Specification (HLOS), the infrastructure outputs that the Government wishes to be provided by Network Rail in England and Wales;

specifying and funding the franchised services operated by Virgin Trains, First Great Western and CrossCountry, and the Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) services that operate wholly in England; and

specifying and funding the Access for All programmes to improve the accessibility of selected stations in England and Wales.

13. The Welsh Government (WG) is responsible for:

Specifying and funding the ATW services that operate wholly in Wales and across the Wales-England border.

Day-to-day management of the ATW franchise including English only services.

WG also has powers to purchase additional services for Wales via franchises let by DfT, and to invest in infrastructure in Wales or England for “Welsh purposes”.

14. The Secretary of State and the Welsh Government Ministers are joint signatories to the ATW franchise. WG became an active party to the franchise from 1 April 2006, when it received a resource transfer of some £141 million from DfT to support ATW’s services that operate within Wales and across the border. Since 2008 WG has received funding for the ATW franchise directly through the Treasury devolution block grant.

15. Capital investment in infrastructure in England and Wales is funded by DfT through the HLOS process. The current HLOS provides specifically for Network Rail to improve infrastructure capacity in the Cardiff area whilst significant renewal of signalling is undertaken. WG also invests in enhancements from its own capital budget.

16. DfT is responsible for rolling stock enhancements for the franchises serving Wales that it manages directly; WG funds rolling stock capacity increases for services run by ATW within Wales and across the border.

Funding of cross-border services: 2007 Rail White Paper and HLOS

17. The current HLOS sets out the levels of safety, reliability and capacity the Secretary of State wishes the railway to provide in England and Wales over the five-year period from April 2009 to March 2014. There are three key output measures—safety risk reduction, service reliability and increased capacity to meet demand (an additional 14% on Welsh routes).

18. In addition, the HLOS provides a high level specification of major projects and other investment which the Secretary of State wants the railway to deliver. On the Great Western Main Line (GWML), a major enhancement scheme at Reading, due for completion in 2015, will deliver a bigger station and improved track layout that will provide route wide benefits including four more trains per hour, performance improvements of 35–40% and journey time improvements. A new depot, transport interchange and station facilities will also be provided. The station works are expected to be complete a year early by the end of 2015. Electrification to Cardiff by 2017 and the introduction of Intercity Express Programme trains will enable additional capacity and improved train journey times by an average of 13 and 15 minutes from London to Cardiff and Swansea, respectively. In addition, the extension of services from Shrewsbury to Birmingham International provides direct links to the airport/conference centre, facilitating the expanded Virgin Trains December timetable.

19. Other HLOS projects that benefit Wales include tackling crowding problems and improving the passenger environment at Birmingham New Street, development of radio-based cab signalling (ERTMS) for the network, improved facilities at 150 intermediate stations in England and Wales (in addition to the £190 million Access for All programme), support for Network Rail’s Discretionary Fund, and funding to facilitate the implementation of a Strategic Freight Network in England and Wales.

20. We are working closely with the Welsh Government as it develops outline business cases for electrification of the Valley Lines and the main line between Cardiff and Swansea for delivery during the next rail investment control period from 2014 to 2019. Good progress is being made and we expect to announce decisions on electrification when the next HLOS is announced by July 2012.

21. Funding for the re-doubling of the line between Swindon and Kemble, scheduled for commissioning by Easter 2014, will improve performance and journey times for South Wales to London services when diverted via Gloucester—particularly when electrification works are taking place on the GWML in 2015–16. From 2016–17 onwards, when the Severn Tunnel is closed for routine maintenance, bi-mode intercity express trains will maintain good through links between London and South Wales using the newly doubled route.

Refranchising

22. The Department for Transport is consulting stakeholders, including the Welsh Government, on the new Great Western franchise to be relet in April 2013. The new West Coast franchise contains a new flexible franchise agreement to give bidders flexibility to vary timetables on individual days of the week to cater for changes in demand, enabling the future operator to provide better services for passengers, whilst protecting existing services by specifying a minimum number of weekly stops at each station. The Welsh Government was consulted on this approach prior to the final Invitation to Tender being published in January.

High Speed Rail

23. The aim of the HS2 project is to deliver hugely enhanced rail capacity and connectivity between Britain’s major conurbations, supporting economic growth across Britain. The benefits come both from faster, more comfortable and convenient journeys, and from businesses being able to operate more efficiently, increasing their productivity, accessing new markets and labour pools. Passengers from Wales, as well as those from the Thames Valley and the South West, will have a convenient link to the new network via the interchange between the Great Western Main Line and HS2 at Old Oak Common. HS2 passengers will also be able to connect to Crossrail, for rapid and convenient access to and from key business destinations in the West End, the City, Canary Wharf and Heathrow airport. Alternatively, passengers could also connect with Heathrow Express for services to the airport.

Improving Connectivity

24. The Government welcomes the work currently underway by Network Rail to assess the outline feasibility and business case for a new rail connection between the Great Western Main Line near Slough and Heathrow Airport. Such a link could significantly reduce journey times to the airport for passengers from the Thames Valley, the West of England and South Wales. There are long held aspirations to electrify the Borderlands Bidston to Wrexham Line and bring it into the Merseyrail network, improving connectivity between NE Wales and Wirral and links into the Wirral Waters Enterprise Zone. A similar rail investment issue, although much smaller scale, concerns the Halton Curve which, if re-opened, would allow through running of services from NE Wales to Liverpool Airport via Chester. Neither scheme features as a short term priority for Network Rail, though both have local support. Both Borderland Electrification and the Halton Curve are however under discussion on the Core Cities agenda, and feature in the initial draft of the City Deal proposed by Liverpool City Region

Highways

25. The road network between England and Wales is well-developed. Nine English trunk roads run to the Welsh border.

In the north, the A5117/A550/A494 and the A55 link to the North Wales Expressway. Following the completion of the A5117 Deeside Junctions scheme in 2008, significant capacity exists on this route.

In mid-Wales, several roads link across the border. Between the A5 and the A40 no road takes more than 9,000 vehicles per day.

In the south, the Severn Crossing and the A40 are the main routes of access. The physical standards of both roads are high. Major improvements to the M4 and M5 around Bristol began work in January 2012, which will remove a major bottleneck in travel to south Wales.

26. Funding of the road network is a devolved matter, and there is no history of providing cross-border subsidies for transport purposes. The recent M4/M5 scheme has been funded entirely from London. Similarly, proposed improvements to the M4 between junctions 23 and 29 would be funded by the Welsh Government. Only where a scheme has physically crossed the border, as with the A5117 Deeside Junctions, have funds been directly transferred from one national authority to another.

Status of the Severn Crossing

27. The Severn Crossing is operated by a private concessionaire, Severn River Crossings plc (SRC). The concession will complete once SRC has recovered a pre-determined sum, representing the costs of construction and maintenance. After this date, the UK Government is entitled to impose a toll of its own, to recover its own costs from building and maintaining the crossing.

28. We are aware of the Welsh Government’s aspiration to take control of the crossing following the end of the concession period, and are in discussions to determine what this would entail. However, no decisions have been taken on the future of the crossing.

29. In operational terms, there is a good working relationship between the Highways Agency and the South Wales Trunk Road Agency around adverse weather and events management.

Other issues—Movement of Wind turbines

30. The daily management of the road network involves regular cooperation between the Highways Agency in England and the Welsh Government and its agencies, and between local authorities in both nations. This has been showcased recently in cooperation over the delivery of wind turbines to north and mid-Wales. This represents around 4,500 abnormal loads, all of which must be delivered with minimum disruption to traffic. The Highways Agency has led on transport planning for deliveries, working closely with Powys Highways and the Welsh Government, and trial runs have so far proven successful. There are, however, some road management issues where we understand that Cheshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire would like a closer relationship with the Welsh Government.

Conclusion

31. The Government believes that infrastructure investment is crucial for Britain’s future, and as part of this is investing considerable sums to secure enhancements to cross border transport connections serving Wales. The devolution settlement must not be a barrier to achieving a genuinely national, high quality transport network. In his Autumn Statement, the Chancellor committed to £5 billion of additional spending on infrastructure over the next three years, with new spending by Network Rail, bringing a billion pounds more. Smaller, targeted improvements will make smarter use of our current infrastructure and improve the capacity, performance and resilience of the existing networks.

32. The Department enjoys good, constructive working relationships with the UK devolved administrations and the Territorial Offices, working with them on matters of mutual interest. Formal structures, such as bilateral concordats and high level official meetings also help ensure a coordinated approach and the delivery of mutually beneficial outcomes.

April 2012

1 National Rail Trends Yearbook 2010–11, Office of Rail Regulation, July 2011.

Prepared 5th March 2013