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Rail Infrastructure

Volume 700: debated on Wednesday 15 September 2021

The Government have and are funding a number of rail improvements in Wales, including upgrading Cardiff Central station and the Cambrian line and upgrades that are in the pipeline to key lines in north, south-east and south-west Wales. I also recently had the opportunity to visit Pencoed to hear the case for an upgrade to the Pencoed level crossing.

Wales accounts for 11% of the rail network but receives only 2% of rail enhancement funding from this Government. Will the UK Government commit to addressing this underinvestment, and make a start in Newport East by finally allowing the Welsh Government to run more cross-border services under the Wales and Borders franchise and by supporting the new stations fund bid for a walkway station for Magor?

This oft-cited figure comes from a Wales Government report which looks purely at renewals between 2011 and 2015. The very same report on page 20 draws attention to the figure that would apply if one looked at maintenance operations and restoration as well, in which case the correct figure would be 4.37%, not 1%.

I was glad to hear the Minister mention, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden), Pencoed in my Ogmore constituency. He will know that the debate about closing the level crossing has been going on since the early ’90s, and I know he is personally supportive and has been to Pencoed to look at the site. However, Bridgend County Borough Council has now put forward cabinet reports to say that the scheme will cost almost £20 million. Department for Transport Ministers cannot keep announcing additional services on the mainline without tackling the safety issues around the Pencoed level crossing. So may I press the Minister to ensure that DfT Ministers back up their announcements with much-needed funding to deal with the problems in my constituency?

I would certainly encourage all partners and stakeholders in this, including DfT Ministers—and also those in the Welsh Government, who are responsible for the highways of course—to engage with the rail network enhancement pipeline in the usual way or consider future rounds of the levelling-up fund. I say, too, that the hon. Gentleman has made a powerful case for that level crossing and the wider strategic benefits that will flow if this problem is sorted out.

I know the Minister shares my disappointment and that of my constituents in Gower at the lack of electrification to Swansea, but is he aware that we have great issues with the Hitachi carriages and fleet? They are costing a lot of money and cracks have been caused because of their becoming hybrid. Can he confirm that he is aware of this problem, and can he say what conversations he is having with his colleagues in the Department for Transport and what it is costing?

I believe that that problem was quite well publicised, so I think we are all aware of it. The rolling stock is being examined. There is no issue around safety. I do not know what the costs are. I understand the hon. Lady’s disappointment about electrification, but she will know, through her sterling work on the Welsh Affairs Committee, that there would have been enormous costs to electrification between Cardiff and Swansea and no benefits for any passengers in terms of decreased time. This Government want to spend that money where it will have the most impact and benefit for rail passengers.

The community in St Athan in my constituency was naturally disappointed, and even angry, that the Welsh Government did not include a new station for St Athan in their application to the Department for Transport’s new stations fund. Can my hon. Friend reassure me that he will listen to the views of Members of Parliament as well as the Welsh Government when considering applications for new stations?

I can absolutely reassure my right hon. Friend on that point. I commend him for the work that he has done in improving rail infrastructure in his constituency. I enjoyed visiting Barry station with him to see the disability access improvements that had taken place sometime last year.

When the Minister listed all the projects that the Government are undertaking, he did not mention the marvellous work being done by Network Rail on the only wooden bridge in the country being used for rail services, between Morfa Mawddach and Barmouth. Will he make a point, together with the Secretary of State, of visiting the bridge and walking across it when it is finally completed and all the wooden piles have been installed? Of course, it is a walkway as well as a railway.

I would be delighted to take my hon. Friend up on what I think is an invitation to visit. I believe that he may even be able to supply a cup of tea somewhere in the vicinity. He is right that I did not mention that particular project. There are so many projects I could mention that Network Rail is responsible for in Wales as a result of UK Government funding. I did not mention, either, the south Wales relief line, the north Wales coast line, the improvements that will hopefully come about to the Wrexham to Bidston line, or a whole host of other projects that are being funded by this UK Government.

One key way we are supporting rail infrastructure across the country is through HS2. Does the Minister agree that HS2 will have a truly nationwide benefit in places such as Port Talbot and Teesside if we use UK steel in its construction?

Of course, many companies in Wales will be tendering for work on the HS2 project, so there will be huge benefits to Wales, huge benefits for the railway industry, and of course huge benefits for the whole United Kingdom. HS2 is also about getting people off the roads and on to the railways, which is something that anyone who supports getting Britain to net zero by 2050 should be in support of.