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Railways: Cardiff Valley Lines

Volume 726: debated on Monday 28 March 2011

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will include the Ebbw Valley line in the development of the business case for the electrification of the Cardiff valley lines.

My Lords, the Department for Transport has committed to work with the Welsh Assembly Government to develop a business case for the electrification of the key valley commuter lines north of Cardiff via Pontypridd, Caerphilly, Treherbert, Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil, Coryton and Rhymney, as well as the lines to Penarth and Barry Island to the west. There is no current proposal for electrification of the line from Newport to Ebbw Vale.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer but I am disappointed by it. By the way, the line at present does not go to Newport—it is Cardiff to Ebbw Vale. It opened on 8 February 2008 and in the first year carried 573,000 passengers, breaking all expectations. At weekends it has to double its capacity to carry passengers. It is the only one of the valley lines not to be included in this proposed business plan. Would he be prepared to facilitate a meeting with myself, himself, his Secretary of State and perhaps a couple of Members of the other place so we can put our case directly to Ministers?

My Lords, I am aware of the success of the lines. The noble Lord asked about a meeting. Yes, I will facilitate that. I think noble Lords need to understand that electrification can have a good business case when the existing rolling stock needs replacing and the frequency of vehicle movements is relatively high. That does not yet exist on the Ebbw Vale line.

My Lords, the announcement of the proposed electrification of the valley lines was strongly welcomed in Wales but there was some disappointment that the electrification of the First Great Western line did not go beyond Cardiff. I was very pleased to hear that the Government are keeping that under review. Can the Minister give us some detail of how that review will take place?

My Lords, Governments keep everything under review. It is important to understand that the rolling stock that will be used on the Great Western line is the bi-mode IEP train. The savings in time from Cardiff to Swansea will be minimal because the maximum speed on that line is severely restricted. Therefore, there would be no benefit from electrification in the short term.

My Lords, given the success of the service on the Ebbw Vale to Cardiff line, why are there no passenger trains from Ebbw Vale to Newport, for which there must be a big demand? I believe that freight has been running on the line for many years. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. As I understand it, although there is a freight line to Newport, the signalling is not up to the required standards for passenger trains. Under the new signalling project, modern signalling has been provided for but not fitted. Specifying train services is a matter for the Welsh Assembly Government, so if they want to specify that there will be passenger train services from Ebbw Vale to Newport, they can do so.

I declare an interest as someone who was born in Ebbw Vale, an event that was followed by the Second World War. I recall the final march about the closure at Ebbw Vale—the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock of Holyhead, and her dear husband were there and her remarks stay with me. Does the Minister agree that commuting from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff and subsequently, I hope, to Newport is of paramount importance for the people who live in that area, especially the young people, to get jobs?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Most of the valley lines are going to be electrified for precisely the reason that he describes.

Will my noble friend bear in mind the increased attractiveness of the valleys in terms of enterprise zones and the promotion of work opportunities if the valley lines are electrified?

My Lords, will the Minister explain this business about being “under review”, what the timetable of the review of the electrification of the line from Cardiff to Swansea would be and why he has not done a complete business case on electrifying that line?

My Lords, there are numerous possible electrification schemes and we have to go for those that offer the best business case. At the moment, there is not a good business case for electrifying the line all the way to Swansea; there are much more attractive schemes elsewhere. We cannot do everything all at once.

My Lords, no one is asking the Minister to do everything all at once. He will recognise that it will be a considerable time before any of this electrification programme takes place, so will he take seriously the possibility that the Ebbw Vale line may well develop in such a way as to merit inclusion in the projected electrification of the valley lines? There is no doubt about the economic necessity of improved transport links between the valley towns and Cardiff.

My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord says, but it is important to understand that when there are relatively few diesel trains running, the savings that you can obtain by electrification are relatively small. At some point, the demand on the Ebbw Vale line may be sufficient to justify electrification.