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Volume 472: debated on Wednesday 27 February 2008

4. What discussions he has had with Arriva on the performance of cross-border Arriva train services. (188101)

I have regular discussions with representatives of several organisations regarding rail performance in Wales, including Arriva and First Great Western.

Given the Government’s willingness to nationalise failing industries, will the Minister consider nationalising Arriva trains? If not, will he convene a summit with Liberal Democrat MPs, MPs from other parties and interested groups, including Arriva itself, on how to improve the poor service on the Cambrian line, and will he consider practical options such as combining infrastructure and operations management of the rail service?

The hon. Gentleman tempts me down the branch line of nationalisation, but at least not in to the failed sidings of Tory rail privatisation. He raises an important issue about the Cambrian line. In August 2007, the Deputy First Minister announced that the Welsh Assembly Government will spend £8 million on capital improvements on the line between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury. That funding will be matched by £5 million from Network Rail. Of course, I am always more than willing to meet him and other Members who want to raise issues of vital concern to rail users in Wales.

I speak as the chairwoman of the recently formed all-party group on rail in Wales. In light of the announcement made yesterday about franchise breaches by First Great Western trains, will the Minister meet the company to discuss cross-border issues?

Yes, I undoubtedly will. I congratulate her on her leading role in the all-party group on rail in Wales. I am sure that she will do great service. On the announcement made in the papers today, in consultation with the Welsh Assembly Government, Arriva is to lease on a short-term basis five class 150/1 units to First Great Western that are not currently being deployed, for the Wales and borders franchise, but that sub-lease will be available to meet future demand and can be recalled at three months’ notice. I undertake to meet Arriva and First Great Western to discuss the issue.

Last October, the Under-Secretary of State said that he was keen to see the borderlands line between Wrexham and Bidston electrified, and that is crucial to the north Wales economy. He must be disappointed that the Plaid Assembly Minister totally omitted any mention of the scheme when laying out the Assembly’s transport funding priorities for the next four years. Is that not an instance of Labour having sold out to Plaid in return for propping them up in government, to the extent of sacrificing an important infrastructure project?

Not at all, and I point out that the Welsh Assembly Government and Merseytravel have jointly commissioned Network Rail to undertake a study of the scope and cost of options for a full or partial electrification of the Wrexham to Bidston line. The results of the study will be available sometime in spring 2008, and we await them with interest.