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Transport: South Wales

Volume 827: debated on Thursday 2 February 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to implement the eighth recommendation of the Union Connectivity Review, published on 26 November 2021, to invest in the South Wales main line and ease congestion on the M4.

My Lords, we are engaging with the Welsh Government and other stakeholders to develop transport connectivity improvements across Wales. I am delighted that we are today announcing a £2.7 million investment by the UK Government to develop options for new stations and services on the south Wales main line, which could relieve M4 congestion and support growth in the region.

Despite the Chief Whip’s comments, I beg leave to convey sincere condolences from this side of the Chamber to the First Minister of Wales, the Prif Weinidog, on the sudden and tragic loss of his dear wife, Clare Drakeford. Er cof annwyl—may she rest in peace.

The Minister’s announcement is very welcome because, in terms of figures, we have 5% of the UK population and 11% of track miles but just between 1% and 2% of rail enhancement funding. I hope this funding will actually take place as stated; we were going to have electrification to Swansea but it did not happen. Can she assure me that the Government will show the people that they understand the importance of upgrading the relief lines between the Severn tunnel and Cardiff?

The Government are working closely with the Welsh Government. A newly established Wales rail board, which reports to both the Secretary of State for Transport and the Welsh Minister in charge of climate change, will consider all the different options in Wales and bring forward the most needed.

I of course echo the noble Baroness’s condolences, which are deeply felt on this side of the House too.

My Lords, in supporting the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, I point out that the union connectivity report also specifically recommends improving connectivity on the north Wales coast line

“for faster journey times, more resilience and capacity … to better serve North Wales”.

Since then, the number of through trains has halved and advertised services have been cancelled at short notice. When will the Government get their act together?

Train services are of course a matter for Transport for Wales but, on the infrastructure, recommendation 7 encouraged the Government to look at the north Wales transport corridor. We will take that recommendation on board. Funding is available in the UK connectivity development fund, and, as ever, we look to proposals from Transport for Wales and others.

My Lords, if funds are to be found to ease the congestion on the M4, will similar funds be found to ease the congestion particularly on the M1, where I understand that congestion is at least as severe?

The M1 is one of our key arterial motorways, and it has had a number of upgrades over the years to increase capacity. We continue to look at those bottlenecks, and there will be more on that when announcements are made for RIS3, which is the next road investment strategy period, starting in 2025.

My Lords, why was electrification of the London to Cardiff line not extended to Swansea, as promised by the David Cameron Government?

That was because assessment of that electrification project showed no significant journey-time savings. In 2018, the National Audit Office concluded that it is right to assess investment decisions about upgrades to make sure that they give passenger benefits. We have to put our funding where it can have the largest passenger benefits.

My Lords, in addition to the helpful comments from the Minister on south Wales and investment generally, what about rail connectivity between the south and the north of Wales? That is one of the worst links—it is the longest and I believe it goes through England—so will there be some investment for that?

I do not have any further details about north-south connectivity in Wales. The union connectivity review very much focused on the transport corridors that run across north Wales and along the south coast, but I will write to the noble Lord if I can find out more.

My Lords, in terms of UK connectivity, Northern Ireland unfortunately cannot let the train take the strain: we rely on air and sea connectivity. Given the sad collapse of Flybe, has the Minister had any conversations about sustainable connectivity between Northern Ireland and Great Britain?

The noble Baroness is right: the collapse of Flybe was a sad event, and we work closely with those who have lost their jobs because of it. However, it was a much smaller airline than noble Lords may have seen in the past. Of course we think about air connectivity to Northern Ireland. We have a public service obligation in place for the city of Derry/Londonderry, and there are currently over 200 daily flights from Belfast.

My Lords, when upgrades to our major rail infrastructure are being considered, does it make sense for those upgrades to stop short of central London, or should they reach into central London, where most people would be connecting and travelling to or from?

Could the Minister have a quiet word with her noble friend Lord Davies of Gower about the delays on the line from Swansea to London? Twice in the past three weeks, I have been delayed for over an hour. Once there was some mitigation as there were floods, but on the last occasion the replacement bus broke down and we were left with a very long delay. Surely that needs to be looked at as a priority by the new rail board. Is there any prospect of improving that line and of looking again at electrification?

As I said, services are run by Transport for Wales, but the new Wales rail board will consider matters in the round. Sometimes flooding occurs and replacement bus services can indeed break down, but it is important that we improve services across south Wales. The £2.7 million kicks off what could be very significant investment: there would be five new stations, and improvements between west Wales and Bristol Temple Meads will be looked at.

My Lords, we have heard mention of Swansea, the north Wales corridor and various other places of great importance. From time to time, I have to get to Lampeter. It used to have a railway line, which I enjoyed using. If it were restored and continued to Aberystwyth, a significant and time-saving step would be offered to north and south Wales, and it would enable them to get their act together.

If the noble Lord will forgive me, I am not quite aware of where Lampeter is—I am being told that it is “on the left”. For any rail investment, we must look at the benefits and costs. If the Welsh Government want to look at that and bring forward proposals that show that the benefits would far outweigh the costs, we would of course look at them.

Further to my noble friend Lord Griffiths’s question, it is very welcome that we are talking about, we hope, opening lines that were vandalised by Dr Beeching. The Government have had a plan for doing some of that, so can the Minister update us as to how many lines closed by Beeching are now in the process of being reopened?

I do not have the detail on that, but I know that the Okehampton line has been reopened and that there is significant work going on in other places. I will send an update on that programme to the noble Lord.