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Swansea Main Line: Electrification

Volume 630: debated on Wednesday 1 November 2017

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on the Welsh economy of the Government’s decision not to electrify the main line to Swansea. (901487)

4. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on the Welsh economy of the Government’s decision not to electrify the main line to Swansea. (901490)

15. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on the Welsh economy of the Government’s decision not to electrify the main line to Swansea. (901501)

Before I respond to questions, I would like to convey the thoughts and prayers of the whole House to the families and community in Llangammarch Wells following the tragic fire earlier this week.

The Government are delivering the biggest rail investment programme for more than a century. The Great Western modernisation programme includes £5.7 billion of investment in new trains. It will cut journey times from south Wales to London by 15 minutes, which will make south Wales more attractive to investors, and bring significant benefits to our economy and passengers alike.

May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments? I offer my deepest condolences.

The Government’s decision not to go ahead with electrifying the main line to Swansea has been a bitter blow to south Wales. My constituency is less than 20 miles from north Wales, and many of my constituents have written to ask me what steps the Government are taking to electrify the north Wales coast line. Can the Secretary of State provide any clarification today?

The hon. Lady will be well aware that advances in bimodal technology mean that electrification between Cardiff and Swansea would not save passengers any significant journey time. She makes an interesting point about north Wales, and I hope that she is aware of the £43 million of signalling improvement that has taken place in north Wales to improve speed and reliability along the line. In addition, the Crewe hub offers great potential for bringing the benefits of HS2, a major UK rail investment programme, to north Wales as well as to the north of England.

What will the Secretary of State be doing to create a more competitive and cost-effective environment for rail infrastructure in Wales?

A major multibillion investment programme is benefiting rail passengers in Wales. Earlier this year, the Public Accounts Committee asked us to reassess the electrification programme on a stage-by-stage basis, and that was what we did. We are therefore using the latest advances in modern technology to ensure that passengers in Swansea and west Wales get the benefits of the most modern trains on the network immediately, rather than perhaps waiting for the traditional technology of electric-only trains.

On 16 May, the Transport Secretary said that electrification was definitely happening and that he wanted to see an end to “smelly diesel trains”, so there was widespread disappointment on 20 July when electrification was cancelled between Cardiff and Swansea, and also for the midland main line, with Ministers citing the fact that new technology made electrification unnecessary. Can the Secretary of State satisfy the House that this is not another cynical broken election promise by outlining what technological breakthrough was made after the ballot boxes closed?

One of the strong advocates for electrification was Professor Mark Barry, but he said that the bimodal fleet neutralised the case. The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point about diesel trains because these bimodal trains will use the latest and most environmentally friendly diesel generators. The latest trains can even exceed the maximum speed that could be achieved between Cardiff and Swansea. Of course they will stick to the maximum speed along that route, but that demonstrates their flexibility.

The benefits of the Crewe hub station rely on a business case of five trains an hour to deliver improvements to not only to my constituents in Eddisbury, but north Wales. What is the Secretary of State doing to support that case?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and I meet regularly to discuss the whole range of rail infrastructure programmes in Wales. The integrated way in which the network works via the Crewe hub offers potential not only to my hon. Friend’s constituency, but to north Wales, because bringing the benefits of high-speed rail to Crewe will benefit north Wales as well.

I was a member of the Public Accounts Committee when it came up with its cross-party recommendations in February, so I am pleased to hear the Secretary of State cite them. Does he agree that any future electrification needs to be based on a robust assessment? It is worth bearing in mind that the bimodal trains that he proposes for Swansea are exactly what most other parts of the Great Western network, including Plymouth and Torbay, will be getting anyway.

My hon. Friend makes a logical, reasonable and helpful point in recognising that by using the latest technology we are offering more capacity and much faster trains, which is a major benefit to Swansea and to west Wales. Criticising the decision to use the latest technology on the line to Swansea does nothing more than undermine investment in the city.

12. Rail electrification from London to Cardiff will save 15 minutes of journey time, but the new Swansea metro proposal would save half an hour between Cardiff and Swansea. What is more, the city deal will create 10,000 jobs and more passenger demand. Will the Secretary of State look again at the business case for an electrified metro between Swansea and Cardiff that will provide an environmentally friendly and stronger future, and offset the negative impacts of HS2 on investment in south Wales? (901498)

Clearly the Swansea metro is a different proposal, but I am keen to meet Professor Mark Barry to discuss its potential. It is an interesting addition to a wide-ranging debate in which there are also proposals to improve the frequency of trains to Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. At the moment, passengers from west Wales often drive to Port Talbot to get on the train, but I think that we can come up with much more imaginative solutions. The metro is an additional solution to consider as part of that debate.

The Secretary of State will be aware that in addition to deep concerns about the failure to electrify beyond Cardiff, there is a worry that Great Western Railway will apparently not offer a bilingual service on main line trains operating into Wales. Has he had a discussion with GWR about that? Other rail companies, such as Arriva, have been offering a bilingual service even on trains that go between Wales and England.

I have noted the public statements that have been made by the Welsh Government and the comments that the hon. Gentleman has made, and I suggest that he raises the matter with First Great Western. Arriva is also making a change. Clearly this is a matter for the operators, but I think that the proposal is positive.

I associate myself and the Opposition with the condolences paid by the Secretary of State to those affected by the fire—our thoughts are with them.

Does the Secretary of State for Wales agree with Andrew R. T. Davies, the leader of the Welsh Conservative party, who said this week that electrification of the line to Swansea would be beneficial to Wales and should still take place? He said that he had not

“given up the ghost of fighting that campaign”,

and I assure the Secretary of State that neither have Labour Members.

I hope that the hon. Lady recognises that we are using the latest technology so that we have more capacity and faster trains going to Swansea. She needs to consider the fact that the original plans involved 15-minute savings between Swansea and Paddington, but the bimodal trains will still bring about 15-minute savings. We are bringing in the most modern technology and the most modern bimodal trains on the network now, rather than waiting another couple of years and causing Swansea additional disruption.

With reports that HS2 will cost more than £100 billion, alongside £15 billion for HS3 and another £30 billion for Crossrail 2, it is an absolute scandal that the British Government have broken their promise to electrify the main line to Swansea, despite the fact that that would cost only £400 million. Given the priorities of the British Government, is it not the case that the only way to ensure that Wales gets its fair share of rail investment is to devolve full responsibility for rail infrastructure?

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s tone because the bimodal trains will improve connectivity to his constituency and west Wales. His constituents would not have benefited from the previous proposal for electric-only trains to Swansea. Of course, the network in Wales is part of the UK network, and when he compares spending, he needs to think logically. For example, he has been supportive of the Halton curve, which is in England but will bring major benefits to the network between north Wales and Liverpool.