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Network Rail: Electrification

Volume 640: debated on Wednesday 2 May 2018

2. If he will discuss with Network Rail its decision to reduce levels of investment in south Wales; and what recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the cancellation of the electrification of the line between Cardiff and Swansea. (905008)

Network Rail’s budget for investment in the Wales route is more than £1.3 billion—record investment in Wales’ railway infrastructure. Passengers in south Wales are also directly benefiting from our £5.7 billion of investment in the new intercity express trains operating from west Wales through Swansea to London.

The Secretary of State knows that Wales has 5% of the population and 6% of the railways yet less than 2% of the investment. Network Rail has just cut £1 billion from its projects, and £700 million has been cut from rail electrification. Will he now promise to support the Swansea bay electrified city metro scheme, alongside alignment, which would reduce the time between Cardiff and Swansea and result in faster, greener connectivity for Swansea bay?

The hon. Gentleman well knows that Wales does not operate in isolation. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), for example, has been campaigning for the Halton curve, which is in England but of course would serve north Wales and link it better with Merseyside, demonstrating how the rail network in Wales does not operate in isolation. I have met Mark Barry, the proponent of the Swansea bay metro. He is undertaking a host of work on it, and we will happily look closely at it, but I point the hon. Gentleman to the need for a decent cost-benefit ratio.

On the subject of electrification of the line to Swansea, is my right hon. Friend aware that the South Wales chamber of commerce, in Swansea, is a darned sight more concerned about there being an old Labour Government in this country destroying industry than about shaving two minutes off a journey time?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. The political grandstanding by some Opposition Members does nothing other than undermine potential investment in Swansea. Nor will we take any lectures from a party that left Wales in the same league as Moldova and Albania in not having a single track of electrified railway line.

There is considerable disagreement about the total amount saved by the cancellation of electrification to south Wales—the figures range from £430 million to £700 million—but, irrespective of the total amount saved, does the Secretary of State not agree that there is a compelling case for reinvesting any funds saved by the cancellation in the Welsh network?

The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. There are opportunities for new railway investment in Wales. The Department for Transport’s strategic outline business case includes a range of options, one of which is improving access to west Wales; that would be transformed by a Swansea parkway railway station, for which there is a growing demand. We are well aware of the Welsh Government’s interest in linking Aberystwyth and Carmarthen, and I think that those schemes would be complementary.

Before I ask my question, Mr Speaker, I hope you will allow me to mention Tecwyn Thomas, a stalwart of Welsh Labour for many years, who has sadly passed away. He was my agent, and the agent of many Labour candidates in Wales. My colleagues and I send our condolences to Tecwyn’s widow Iris, and to his family.

According to a report from the National Audit Office, the Transport Secretary knew that bimodal trains would not provide the equivalent of electrification and that no trains exist that could deliver the timetable. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Transport Secretary acted against the advice that he was given when he cancelled electrification to Swansea, and that that has resulted in poor execution of Network Rail’s electrification work in south Wales?

Let me also pay tribute to the late member of the Labour party whom the hon. Lady mentioned.

A report from the Public Accounts Committee, to which I refer the hon. Lady, said that the plan for electrification between south Wales and Paddington should be reassessed on a stage-by-stage basis, and that is exactly what we did. Electrification would provide no practical journey time saving between Cardiff and Swansea; passengers would sit on the same train. I think we need to get over that issue. I am seeking to attract investment to Swansea, and constantly criticising the cancellation of a plan that would deliver no practical benefits to passengers does nothing to help that.

In the Transport Secretary’s statement of 20 July 2017, which cancelled the electrification of the line of Swansea, it was proposed that a new pipeline service be established for rail enhancement schemes. However, details of the process, and mechanisms for the development and delivery of the schemes, have not been forthcoming, and no Welsh scheme has yet entered the pipeline. Will the Secretary of State explain what the Transport Secretary is doing to prioritise the funds that Welsh projects so desperately need through that pipeline service?

As I have said, there are a number of options in the strategic outline business case, and it is important for us to use that to assess the merits of the study. The increase in the costs of electrification projects throughout the United Kingdom has naturally caused alarm—I mentioned the report of the Public Accounts Committee earlier—but I am excited by the proposals in the business case. I have already mentioned the potential, and the growing demand, for a Swansea parkway station, as well as a new station at St Mellons. There is a host of opportunities.