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Rail Links: Wales and the South-west

Volume 613: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2016

1. What assessment the Government have made of the adequacy of rail links between Wales and the south-west. (905783)

It is a pleasure to observe the House’s increased interest in Welsh questions today.

The Government are investing a record amount in the United Kingdom’s railways. The new fleet of inter-city express trains which will be introduced next year on the south Wales and Great Western main lines will significantly enhance the travel experiences of passengers in Wales and the south-west.

The money that has been invested so far has made a real difference to our national transport infrastructure, but does the Minister agree that it is important to ensure that we have the right stations in the right places, so that more and more passengers can have access to trains?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, who is well known for his campaigning efforts on behalf of rail commuters. The Government’s investment in the railway infrastructure is at record levels. We are seeing the electrification of the main railway line to Swansea, and we are also seeing great investment in signalling in north Wales. That new capacity will be good for the economy of south Wales and the south-west.

As the Minister will know, there is more economic connectivity between south Wales and the south-west than there is between south Wales and north Wales. Will he undertake to speed up the electrification of the railways, particularly at a time when Brexit is leading to considerable uncertainty about inward investment in Wales?

The hon. Gentleman has made a good point about the importance of rail connectivity to economic development, but I do not think it is a case of either/or. I think it is important to have great connections between north and south Wales, but we should also recognise the need for south Wales to be linked with the London area and the south-west, and the same applies to north Wales. As for “speeding up”, I will take no lessons from the Labour party, which failed to invest a single penny in the electrification of any railway line in Wales during a 13-year period.

By stark contrast with what was done by the last Government, what this Government are doing for the Great Western line—the electrification, and the new trains—is remarkable. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the provision of direct trains from Cardiff Central station to London to build on that capacity and investment?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of railway connections between south Wales and London, and it would be a pleasure to meet him to discuss further developments in a Welsh context. I fully agree that the modernisation and electrification of the south Wales main line will greatly enhance the connectivity between south Wales and London, not least the new link to Heathrow airport.

Improving Cardiff Central station is a vital part of all this. Will the Minister update the House on what recent discussions the Government have had with Cardiff council and others about the modernisation and upgrading of the station?

I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met council leaders in Cardiff to discuss the redevelopment of Cardiff Central station. The Government have already invested in enhanced capacity in the form of additional platforms, but the process needs to continue. We recognise the importance of the station to the economy of not just the capital city but the wider economic area that surrounds it, and talks are ongoing.

Plans for future south Wales rail links were heavily dependent on EU cash. Will the Minister ask the Treasury to support rail links such as the metro for the future?

The south Wales metro links will clearly be important to the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but it should be borne in mind that the amount invested in the Cardiff capital region city deal is £1.2 billion, of which less than 8% is currently earmarked as EU funding, and that the Government have already committed £500 million to that development. I think the hon. Gentleman should be talking up the prospects for the economy of south Wales, rather than highlighting the deficiencies that he sees in the current funding arrangements.