– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 10th May 2023.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered railway infrastructure in Wales.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins, and an honour to chair the all-party parliamentary group for rail in Wales. My hon. Friend Chris Elmore is the previous chair, and I am trying my best to maintain his high standards.
My passion for trains and everything to do with railways began when I was a young child of about three. I was born and brought up in a small village in south Wales called Kenfig Hill. My grandmother, whom we called Mam, lived in nearby Porthcawl, which is a seaside town with lovely beaches and a funfair—every child’s dream. We did not have a car, so my mother tried many times to take me on a bus to Porthcawl to see Mam, but I suffered, and still suffer, from travel sickness. We sat at the front of the bus and managed to travel only a short distance before the driver, who knew me well, would see me turning a terrible shade of green and have to stop to allow me to make a quick exit so as to be sick at the side of the road. However, a train ran from the adjacent village, Pyle, to Porthcawl, so my mother tried it. I was fine—no sickness—and I loved the journey.
However, when I was a teenager, along came Beeching, who closed the rail link from Pyle to Porthcawl. Infrastructure has been removed, but I have a dream that one day the freight line that runs from Neath town to Onllwyn at the top of the Dulais valley in my constituency will be converted and once more be a passenger line. Many of the original stations are still there, the freight line gauge is compatible with passenger trains and a global centre of rail excellence is being developed in Onllwyn. I will say more about the global centre later.
Members should think about the benefits of such a scheme. For example, people could take the train to work, and tourists could experience the beauty of the countryside in my constituency while riding on a train. Just before the pandemic struck, Neath Port Talbot Council leased a passenger train to drive up the freight line and test it out. Alas, the test never happened.
A famous local historian lived in Onllwyn. His name was George Brinley Evans, and we all called him Uncle George. Sadly, he passed away last year aged 96. I met Uncle George when I became Member of Parliament for Neath, and he was as passionate about trains as I am. Uncle George lent me many books about trains and railways, and he told me many stories about the rail infrastructure that existed in his time. His dream was to reopen the passenger line from Swansea to Brecon and across the borders. Maybe one day, Uncle George, we will achieve that.
There is one drawback to my love of trains, as some Members here today might know: I am a travel jinx. People who find that out then go out of their way not to travel with me. I could tell the House many stories about my innate ability, over which I have no control, to cause car, train, boat and plane journeys to go horribly wrong. I will tell just one today.
A few years ago, we held a joint event in Pontypridd with the then Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, my friend Ken Skates MS, who represents Clwyd South, and the then shadow Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Andy McDonald. After a successful event, we caught the train from Pontypridd to Cardiff. So far, so good. Then the shadow Secretary of State and I caught the train from Cardiff Central to Paddington. We got to the next stop, Newport, but the train was paused for longer than usual. We waited patiently until an announcement was made that there was a cow on the line between Newport and the Severn tunnel, so we would be bussed to Bristol Parkway.
The train was packed, and it took a long time for us to get off and make our way to the front of Newport station, where we queued for buses. We managed to get the front seats on top of a double-decker, and I prayed that I would not be sick and embarrass myself in front of the shadow.
We arrived at Bristol Parkway, only to be told that there was serious flooding on the line between Bristol and Swindon, so we would be put on a train from Parkway to Temple Meads and hopefully be able to get the cross-country train to Paddington. The journey was exhausting and stressful and took six hours instead of one hour and 50 minutes. While we were waiting in Bristol Parkway, we found a plaque on the platform about the then Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, opening the new platform; I still have the selfie that we took in front of the plaque. Needless to say, my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough has not travelled with me since.
Setting aside my dysfunctional relationship with public transport, it is important to recognise that railways have played a crucial role in the development of the UK and Wales, connecting remote communities and facilitating trade and travel. However, despite that rich history, the railway infrastructure in Wales has faced its fair share of challenges in recent years. Today I will discuss the state of the railway infrastructure in Wales, the challenges it faces and the opportunities for improvement.
The railway network in Wales is made up of about 1,600 miles of track connecting cities, towns and villages across the country. It is a vital part of the transport infrastructure, providing a safe and efficient means of travel for both passengers and goods. However, the infrastructure is ageing and there are concerns about its safety and reliability.
One of the main challenges facing the railway infrastructure in Wales is the lack of investment. Although some improvements have been made in recent years, such as the electrification of the south Wales main line, there is still a significant funding gap in the infrastructure’s maintenance and modernisation. That is particularly concerning given the network’s age, with many of the tracks, stations and signalling systems in need of repair and replacement.
On the electrification of the south Wales main line, my hon. Friend will know that David Cameron promised that the electrification would reach Swansea, but it ends at Cardiff. Does she think that that is a half-done job?
I thank my hon. Friend for his really important intervention. He has been a champion for the cause of electrifying the line between Cardiff and Swansea. There is also the air quality aspect; I believe he is still the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on air pollution. He will remember our visit to Vortex, a really important small business in my constituency that develops futuristic air testing quality equipment that looks like a black motorbike helmet, which gets put at the side of the road. I thank my hon. Friend very much for coming to Neath and for his intervention.
Another challenge is the fragmented nature of the rail industry in Wales. The network is owned by the UK Government via Network Rail, but the train operating companies such as Transport for Wales Rail are responsible for running the services. That can lead to a lack of co-ordination and accountability, with different companies prioritising different aspects of the network.
Additionally, the railway infrastructure in Wales faces challenges relating to the country’s geography. Wales is a hilly and mountainous country, which presents difficulties in building and maintaining railway infrastructure. The terrain can make it arduous and costly to lay new track, maintain existing infrastructure and provide reliable services in areas with limited access. Despite those challenges, there are opportunities for improvement in the railway infrastructure in Wales.
The Welsh Labour Government have recognised the importance of the railway network and have made significant investments in recent years. One such investment is the south Wales metro, which is an integrated transport network that aims to improve connectivity across south Wales. The project includes electrification of the valleys lines, new rolling stock and the development of new stations and transport hubs. The metro will also incorporate other forms of transport such as buses and bicycles, making it a more sustainable and integrated transport system. A similar plan is being worked on to develop a Swansea bay metro.
The Welsh Government have also committed to developing new railway connections, such as the proposed north Wales main line upgrade. The aim of that project is to improve the connection between north Wales and the rest of the UK by upgrading the railway line between Holyhead and Crewe. It would improve journey times and increase capacity, making it easier for people to travel to and from north Wales.
Finally, we must applaud the Welsh Government for leading on the global centre of rail excellence, which is being built in my Neath constituency. It will become the UK’s first net zero rail testing facility and will have a shared campus for rail innovation, research and development. It will be used for the testing and verification of mainline passenger and freight railways, and the development of next-generation solutions for the rail sector. The site will centre on two state-of-the-art loops of test track: one of about 7 km and a smaller one of about 4 km. The Welsh Government have committed £50 million, the UK Government have committed £20 million, and a further £7.4 million is being provided through an Innovate UK R&D competition.
What needs to be done to ensure that the railway infrastructure in Wales is fit for purpose in the years ahead? First, we need continued investment in the maintenance and modernisation of the network. That will require funding from the Welsh Government, the UK Government and the private sector. That investment must be strategic and focused on the most pressing issues, such as the ageing infrastructure and the lack of connectivity in some areas. There are avenues for a substantial increase in investment if changes are made at a UK level to how funding for investment is allocated. I will say more about that shortly.
In addition, investment must focus on people. Rail infrastructure without people is just bits of metal running on other bits of metal. With that in mind, we must consider accessibility for all rail network users. It is brilliant that Transport for Wales’s new Stadler FLIRTs—fast light innovative regional trains—are low-floored with retractable gap fillers that will enable level boarding. That is transformative for disabled people and will allow independent travel at some stations. However, level boarding requires both low-floored trains and infrastructure modifications to set platforms to the UK standard, so will the UK Government commit to investing in a rolling programme to achieve that in Wales and across the UK?
Transport for Wales’s new class 197 trains are not low-floored with retractable gap fillers like the new Stadlers, so they will not enable level boarding. Regrettably, that will bolt in inaccessibility for decades. Why were those trains ordered, rather than trains that enable level boarding?
A recent Leonard Cheshire report claims that 40% of train stations remain inaccessible. The Access for All funding is inadequate and, according to the UK Government’s own statistics, at the current rate of investment it will take 100 years for stations to be accessible and have step-free access to platforms.
Secondly, we need to address the fragmentation in the rail industry in Wales. That could involve greater collaboration among the companies involved in running the network, or even devolution of all Welsh railway funding. That would ensure greater accountability and co-ordination, leading to a more efficient and effective network. We need to remember that the Wales route has about 10% of the UK rail network. It has historically received about 1% to 2% of rail enhancement investment, and has attracted about 5% to 6% of operations, maintenance and renewal investment. It typically has higher subsidies per passenger mile than elsewhere in the UK.
The Welsh Government are responsible for the subsidy for the majority of rail operations in Wales, but not for the funding or decisions related to enhancement and OMR expenditure. The more limited investment by the UK Government, compared with the rest of the UK, on enhancements and OMR has, in effect, handed an operational liability to the Welsh Government. That is a grossly inefficient means of organising strategic decision making and the funding of vital economic infrastructure.
Thirdly, we need to continue to make the most of the opportunities presented to us for investment in railway infrastructure in Wales. That brings me to the key issue of HS2 and what it means for Wales. Currently, HS2 is classed as an England and Wales project, despite not a single foot of track having been laid in Wales. That means that unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, Wales will not receive a penny in funding as a result of Barnett consequentials. Had HS2 been classified as the England-only project that it clearly is, Wales would have received an additional £5 billion of funding, which could be used as vital investment in its railway infrastructure. The argument could go further: we could see HS2 as a disbenefit to Wales.
A recent noteworthy development is that at Old Oak Common. Why is OOC an issue worth debating when we talk about Welsh infrastructure investment, or rather the lack of it? With the delay in building Euston, OOC has now become the London terminus of HS2. It is not yet clear whether Euston will ever be built. The overspend on HS2 is eye-watering and any semblance of a business plan has disappeared with the ongoing contraction of the new railway, along with the promise of wider benefits long into the future for the rest of the UK.
Very little of that wider benefit would have been for Wales. There might have been some intangible benefits for north Wales, but there are absolutely no benefits for the rest of Wales and certainly none along the south Wales main line. The general consensus is that HS2 will negatively impact Wales, as a new high-speed line between OOC—I will not call it London—and Birmingham has nothing to offer Wales except extended journey times to Paddington.
We now have OOC being touted as a new destination in its own right, with the expectation that significant investment will accrue around the new station. “Build it and they will come” seems to be the mantra. The same is now being said for the HS2 terminus at Curzon Street in Birmingham, which will supposedly become a new city centre, as investment follows the new station. That is two major builds at two stations that are not in the city centre. No connecting services will be available at Curzon Street, and Birmingham New Street will be half a mile away. There is no clarity yet on how connecting passengers will move from one to the other, so any time savings are already being eaten into.
At OOC it is all about connecting to the Elizabeth line, but passengers from Wales will be able to do that anyway at Paddington, and in less time. More importantly, there is a direct disbenefit to Wales as a result of the development of OOC. The plan from the Department for Transport and the industry is for all trains to call at OOC. Indeed, that is part of the HS2 business case, particularly now that OOC is to be the southern terminus of HS2.
That will add about five minutes to every journey into Wales. The relatively recent electrification programme on the route—itself curtailed at Cardiff to save money—had, as part of its business case, a 15-minute journey time reduction between Paddington and Wales. Long-distance intercity trains from Wales, be they Great Western Railway or Grand Union, will be negatively impacted by five minutes by the need to call at OOC, so the initial business case for electrifying the south Wales main line is now undermined. In particular, I see no way any passenger for south Wales would choose a journey from Birmingham via OOC. That is one thing that the rail industry does agree on.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her excellent speech, and in particular commend what she says about the disbenefits of HS2, which is clearly a scandal. The project shows a total disregard for the devolution settlement, and it is a disgrace that it is not classified as an England-only project. If the Minister will not listen to Opposition Members, will he consider listening to members of his own party, including members of the Welsh Affairs Committee, which produced a report on rail infrastructure that states that
“HS2 should be reclassified as an England only project”?
Only last month, all Members of the Welsh Senedd, including members of the Minister’s party, unanimously passed a motion calling on the UK Government to redesignate HS2 an England-only project, and to provide Wales with the resultant consequentials. That is the right thing to do. It gets worse, because Northern Powerhouse Rail will also be classified as an England and Wales project, despite the fact that none of the track will be in Wales. Does my hon. Friend agree?
I thank my hon. Friend for her ongoing support; it means a lot to me. I am sure the Minister has heard the points she made, which I totally agree with, and will answer them. I thank her for her sterling work on the Welsh Affairs Committee, and I also thank my hon. Friend Geraint Davies for his work on that Committee.
Not only does HS2 lengthen journey times on the south Wales main line, when the initial electrification investment aimed to reduce journey times, but it is all done for the benefit of an HS2 business case that no longer works, and there is nothing but disbenefit to Wales. Under the levelling-up agenda, it would not be unreasonable to extend electrification at least to Swansea, and/or make available other investment for Wales. That would help us to recover some of the five minutes lost by trains calling at OOC, and would be a fraction of the cost of the overspend on HS2. It would also mean that Wales would, for the first time, benefit from HS2, even if in a roundabout way.
Investment in Wales is now much harder to get, due to significant budgetary cuts, but investment in HS2 continues, with the business plan forever changing to fit the emerging and ever changing HS2 railway. There is no possibility that current HS2 plans would ever have been deemed acceptable in a business case review; they would never have seen the light of day. Wales suffers while billions continue to be swallowed up by a project that no longer works, when a relatively modest investment would allow Wales to at least share some of the supposed benefits of HS2.
Does the Minister agree that investment in Wales’s rail infrastructure is important both to our collective decarbonisation obligations and to the need to support economic development across all parts of the UK? On that basis, will he acknowledge the detailed work of Transport for Wales and its metro development teams over the last two years, and support the substantive rail enhancement plans that they have set out for Wales, and services over the border that impact on Welsh rail services, which will help us to meet those objectives? Primarily, we need the UK Government to commit to funding and supporting the delivery of a range of rail enhancement schemes up to 2030. That includes the upgrade of the south Wales main line, as highlighted in the recent Western Gateway 2050 rail vision.
My hon. Friend is chair of the APPG for the Western Gateway, which is why she is cheering. The upgrade of the south Wales main line should include the new Burns stations in south-east Wales, Cardiff Parkway and the electrification of the Swansea and Vale of Glamorgan lines—and of Filton Bank to Bristol Temple Meads. The enhancement schemes should also include the upgrade of the Borderlands line to connect Wrexham and north-east Wales to Liverpool and Merseyside, using Merseyrail’s new battery-powered Stadler 777s; capacity enhancements at Chester and on the north Wales main line; a first phase of Swansea bay metro to help to deliver an economic boost to the region; and immediate action, including development funding via Network Rail this year, to help to address network capacity issues at Cardiff West junction. Resolution of those issues would improve the operational capacity and efficiency of the entire core valley lines network—a requirement that was omitted from Network Rail and the Department for Transport’s Cardiff area signalling renewal project in 2012 to 2015. That enhancement could be most efficiently combined with planned Network Rail renewal works.
Thank you for your patience, Mrs Cummins. I will finish with some good news—I always try to end on a happy note. This morning the global centre of rail excellence announced that it has signed heads of terms for Transport for Wales to become a major commercial premium client. That secures a long-term partnership for Transport for Wales, so that it can use all the world-class facilities at the global centre of rail excellence. The announcement follows the recent deal with Hitachi, which will also be using the premium-quality testing, product approval, training, innovation, research and development and storage facilities at the global centre of rail excellence. Those agreements indicate the global centre’s commercial strength, and are great news for Neath, Wales and the UK.
It is a delight to serve under your chairship, Mrs Cummins. I congratulate my hon. Friend Christina Rees on securing this important debate on rail infrastructure in Wales. Like her, I am a keen speaker on rail issues in this House, because they are so important for my constituency. I am pleased to be a vice-chair of the APPG for rail in Wales, which my hon. Friend chairs with great enthusiasm.
I look forward to seeing the global centre of rail excellence up and running in my hon. Friend’s constituency in 2025. The expertise of CAF, a Spanish-owned train manufacturer in Newport East, will feed into the work of the centre. Will the Minister look at that company’s work in manufacturing trains and trams? It is an excellent company that builds great trains in my constituency. Our Welsh Labour Government deserve huge credit for co-ordinating and financing, alongside private sector partners, this very exciting project in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
I share my hon. Friend’s frustrations with the UK Tory Government’s chronic underfunding of our rail network. It is important to note that, as she says, much of Welsh rail infrastructure is not devolved. The buck stops with the UK Government, and Tory mismanagement has deliberately held back fair rail funding for Wales. It is often mentioned but worth repeating that Wales accounts for a significant 11% of the route network in England and Wales combined, but receives just 1.6% of rail enhancement funding. A conservative estimate of the underfunding of Welsh railways by 2029 is £2.4 billion, but it could be as high as £5.1 billion. That is shocking. Welsh taxpayers and rail passengers have been totally short-changed by this Government, who have wilfully had their eye off the ball when it comes to Wales.
We have seen the same with HS2, as my hon. Friend said very well. The HS2 project is wholly in England and will provide little benefit, if any, to any area of Wales. Indeed, by the UK Government’s own reckoning, HS2 is likely to cause economic detriment to areas of south Wales. Like my hon. Friend—and others, I am sure—I would be grateful if the Minister spelled out once and for all why HS2 continues to be classed as an England and Wales project, which deprives Wales of consequential funding through the Barnett formula. As my hon. Friends the Members for Neath and for Cynon Valley (Beth Winter) have said, it is not just Labour Members who are querying that discrepancy. The Minister will be aware of the Welsh Affairs Committee’s report on Welsh rail, overseen by Stephen Crabb, which states:
“Using the Barnett formula, Wales’ funding settlement should be recalculated to apply an additional allocation based on the funding for HS2 in England.”
The Committee suggested that such a reclassification
“would help to ensure that Welsh rail passengers receive the same advantage from investment in HS2 as those in Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
It would be interesting to know which part of that the Minister disagrees with.
On the theme of deliberate political choices, it is worth emphasising that the Department for Transport continues to restrict the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales from providing additional cross-border services under the terms of the Wales and Borders franchise. Extra services between south-east Wales and south-west England would help to alleviate some of the pressure for my constituents, particularly those who commute between Newport, Severn Tunnel Junction and Bristol Temple Meads on services with a history of severe overcrowding. When I have flagged this issue with previous Rail Ministers, they have brushed it under the carpet. I do not understand why extra services cannot happen, so I would be grateful if the Minister explained.
I am a big supporter of the campaign for a new railway station—a walkway station—for Magor in my constituency. The campaign was spearheaded by the brilliant volunteers at the Magor action group on rail, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and will visit Parliament again later this month. The fast-growing villages of Magor and Undy in my constituency have been without a station since the Beeching cuts of the ’60s, and there is huge local support for a station in the area to support commuters travelling west to Newport and Cardiff, and east to Bristol. A new station for Magor would help to reduce congestion on local roads and relieve pressure on Severn Tunnel Junction in Rogiet, which has experienced an estimated 300% increase in station entries and exits over the past two decades.
The campaign for a new station for Magor is supported by Monmouthshire County Council and the Welsh Government, who have included it in plans for the South Wales Metro, as one of six new stations between Cardiff and Severn Tunnel Junction, alongside new stations in Somerton and Llanwern in Newport East. The Burns review, produced by the South East Wales Transport Commission, recommended these new stations, and the Burns delivery unit’s annual report sets out a timetable for the delivery of the stations by 2029. The new stations were also endorsed by the UK Government’s Union connectivity review as a means of improving cross-border transport links, and have the full backing of the Western Gateway regional partnership.
The Western Gateway 2050 rail vision document, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Neath, had its formal launch in Bristol earlier this year and highlighted that the new stations are eminently deliverable; related schemes and business cases are already in planning. The stations could have transformative benefits for the communities they serve, while helping to unlock the huge economic potential of the wider region. It is important to note that the rail vision document was endorsed by train operating companies including Great Western Railway, Transport for Wales and CrossCountry, as well as my neighbour, the Secretary of State for Wales, who welcomed the “ambition” of the report and acknowledged:
“Connectivity within South Wales and South West England is vital to growing our regional economy.”
Another issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Neath raised was an upgrade to the relief lines in south Wales, which is badly needed, and is an important enabling investment for the proposed new stations. The Department for Transport has yet to make funding available to Network Rail for that work. I am sure that there will be frustration about this in the Wales Office, too. In 2020, the Secretary of State outlined his support for an upgrade in his regular column for the Abergavenny Chronicle and the Monmouthshire Beacon. If he and his colleagues in the Wales Office want to join me and Labour Members in lobbying his Government colleagues on this, I would be grateful to have them on board. We need that upgrade to happen, and that funding to come forward.
I asked about the south Wales relief lines in Transport questions last month and the Secretary of State told me that the upgrade was
“being progressed to a full business case”—[Official Report,
and will be subject to “careful consideration” by the Department. If the Minister could give us an update today, it would be appreciated, because the upgrade unlocks lots of other things.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Neath, I will finish on some good news. I am reliably informed that, from a week on Monday, an additional 65 new GWR services will run between London, Newport and Carmarthen each week on nice green, quick trains. That is a good thing that we should focus on. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I will listen to the Minister’s response with great interest. These are issues that Labour has raised for many years, and railway infrastructure in Wales has been neglected for too long by this Government. If they will not take action to address the legacy of neglect, a future Labour Government will be happy to step in. Passengers in Newport East and all of Wales deserve better than they have had over the past 13 years.
It is great to serve under your chairpersonship, Mrs Cummins, and a big congratulations to Christina Rees. If, in the aftermath of the King’s coronation, the Government are serious about the Union, they should stop starving Wales of its resources and making it relatively poorer, year after year. The average wage in Wales is 72.7% of the UK level; it was £21,000 in 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics. By comparison, in Scotland, the average wage is 92% of the UK level, or £26,572. The driving force behind that is the fact that over the past 20 years, Scotland has had 8% of rail infrastructure investment and Wales has had 1.5%.
As my hon. Friends have pointed out, the Tory Government have decided to classify HS2 as applying to England and Wales, even though it does not go through Wales at all. In fact, while it will reduce journey times from London to Manchester from 2 hours and 10 minutes to 1 hour and 10 minutes, the journey time from London to Swansea will remain at 3 hours. We will therefore see a distribution of investment and jobs out of Wales. Despite that, we will not get a penny piece from HS2. Scotland will get an 8% investment, or £8 billion, in line with its population figures. Wales is being robbed of £5 billion, which works out at £3,700 per household.
At a time when the poorest nation in the Union is on its back, and receives 73% of average wages, we are to get even less. That is completely unacceptable and disgraceful. That is why the all-party Welsh Affairs Committee, on which I serve, unanimously agreed that HS2 would not make up for the history of starvation that we have suffered under the Tories, and indeed before this Government, but we thought that at least we would get our fair share in the future. The Committee unanimously agreed that the project should be classified as England only, so we would get our Barnett consequentials, as Northern Ireland and Scotland do. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend Beth Winter, the Senedd unanimously—the Tories, Plaid and Labour—agreed that we should get our fair share. I have had meetings with Professor Mark Berry and the Minister who, to be fair, has been friendly and accommodating in those meetings, but the bottom line is that he needs to persuade the Government to provide the resources that we need to build a stronger, fairer and greener Union, in which Wales gets its fair share.
Even ignoring the rail situation, Scotland earns much more per head than Wales, yet it gets a higher Barnett consequential. For every £1.20 spent in Wales, £1.26 is spent in Scotland. That is not right; we need our fair share.
We talk about Wales and Scotland, and on occasion people say we are putting out a begging bowl. We have to bear in mind that London gets the highest regional funding per head through the equivalent of the Barnett formula for England. That needs to be reiterated. If that level of transport funding is good enough for London, why is it not good enough for Wales?
Precisely. The money is poured into London, which already has the wealth and the best transport system. There is an idea that there will be some sort of trickle down. In transport generally, the only place we have publicly owned transport that works is London; elsewhere, it is a complete mess because it is not controlled in the interests of the public.
Investment is the core issue I am focusing on, and we are completely starved of the resources we need. The Minister knows that Transport for Wales has worked up £2.5 billion-worth of projects that can be delivered over the next 10 to 15 years. That is half the consequential funding it deserves. I have spoken about this before, and perhaps the Minister will mention it when he responds to the debate. I hope that his officials in the Department for Transport are engaging with Transport for Wales to get some of those projects up and running.
Some projects have been mentioned already, including the Swansea metro and connectivity in south Wales. The reality is that 3 million people live in Swansea, Cardiff and Bristol. That economic and population cluster should be connected up, but connections between Swansea and Bristol run about once an hour, while connections between Leeds and Manchester—an equivalent area—run about eight times an hour. To rub salt in the wounds of Wales, we have just been reminded that the Government have decided to classify Northern Powerhouse Rail as an England and Wales project, so more money will go into that project instead of to Wales; we will get nothing. We also need more connectivity between Holyhead and Crewe. There are plans for a freeport, and at the moment the strategy is that everything is going to be sucked out of Wales and into Liverpool.
We should all share a vision of a stronger, fairer, greener future for all the United Kingdom, but in particular for Wales, where we have the opportunity to build renewables and green energy. We know that freight, for example, is going to grow by 30% by 2035. The Government should be investing in Wales rather than putting us down and not letting us achieve our true potential.
On the point of a green future, we are facing a climate crisis. My office in south Wales has been doing some work on the development of an integrated transport system in Wales. If Wales had what I regard as its entitlement—£5 billion in consequentials, because HS2 is an England-only project—that would fund the Wales and Swansea Bay metros and the integration of the north Wales line with Merseyside, and allow us to connect Aberystwyth and Swansea by train. Does my hon. Friend agree that the UK Government have a duty to properly fund public transport so that we can address the existential crisis facing our planet?
Precisely. The Welsh Government, in their wisdom, have quite rightly decided that we need to shift our focus from personal car use and diesel to public transport and rail. However, they are not being accommodated by the UK Government, who give us the money we need to provide infrastructure that enables people to move around more modestly, and to work from home and so on, in order to save the planet and build the economy.
We will face an election next year, and there is a question about what, precisely, the Labour Government are going to do about this. My hon. Friend Mr Dhesi will respond to that, but I will make a point about the numbers. If we had half the money that we require—£2.5 billion of the £5 billion—the schemes that have already been worked up by Transport for Wales could be delivered in 10 to 15 years. That represents 5% of the 5% share that Wales should get from the £28 billion that the Labour party is promising each year in green investment.
I hope that my hon. Friend will respond to that point, but what I am saying is that the Labour party has already put forward a plan for green investment that can easily accommodate our needs in terms of rail. What is the Minister doing about it? I fear that he is not doing anything. It is about time we had a stronger, fairer, greener future for Wales and we got the rail investment we deserve.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Gadeirydd. Like so much in Wales, railways have massive potential, but—again, like so much in Wales—we need the infrastructure boost that can be provided only by a central Government equipped to put the best interests of Wales first.
We have some of the oldest railway infrastructure in the UK, which requires a high level of additional spending—frankly, it is safe to say, almost all the additional spending that we get for Wales—just to maintain its current poor quality and stay where we are. High-quality and reliable public transport is essential for boosting the economy and connecting our communities. As has already been mentioned, it is also a vital plank for the greening of our society, as investing in public transport is one of the most effective ways of reducing carbon emissions. That investment is not happening in Wales, as we are being starved of funding by the Treasury. Its current position is that billions spent on railway projects in England somehow benefit Wales. That is, of course, a fantasy of convenience for the Treasury.
It is important to reiterate, as many hon. Members have already said, that Wales is being robbed of billions of pounds of funding—£5 billion from HS2 and £1 billion from Northern Powerhouse Rail alone. We have heard that the Welsh Affairs Committee recommended in 2021 that HS2 should be reclassified as an England-only project. That would ensure that Welsh rail passengers received the same advantage for investment in HS2 as those in Scotland and Northern Ireland, who are already receiving Barnett consequentials from the project. It is a matter of equity, and we have heard convincing arguments.
The Government’s own economic analysis of HS2 shows that it will produce an economic disbenefit for Wales. In other words, it will cause an economic hit, not an economic boost. We know that Wales is losing out when it comes to HS2, yet the Labour party has still yet to commit to bringing that funding to Wales if it enters government. I hope that the shadow Minister, Mr Dhesi, will make the party’s position clear and guarantee that funding will make its way to Wales in the future, which many Labour party members have already expressed desire for.
That money, which is owed to Wales, would be transformational. It could be used to improve connectivity in rural areas such as my constituency of Dwyfor Meirionnydd, where we are dependent on the Cambrian coast line and the Conwy valley line. Many of my constituents suffer from unreliable services, too often in the form of buses. I am delighted that Network Rail has undertaken structural work at Barmouth viaduct and, previously, at Pont Briwet. Those bridges recently celebrated their 150th birthdays—their century and a half. But all that work does is maintain what is already there; it does nothing to enhance it.
The Welsh Affairs Committee report also noted:
“Improving transport infrastructure within Wales must be a priority and should focus on how infrastructure initiatives can remedy deprivation, boost the Welsh economy and contribute to meeting decarbonisation targets.”
Interestingly, the Committee noted:
“Enhancements should include a focus on improving connectivity within Wales, such as more efficient rail links between North and South Wales”.
Transport for Wales figures suggest that completing the north-to-south-Wales rail route along the western seaboard from Bangor to Swansea would cost around £2 billion. Interestingly, that is a third of the £6 billion owed to Wales from what I will call the Barnett inconsequentials.
For too long, transport policy has mainly focused on improving connectivity with England, rather than within Wales itself. We could use the money that Wales is owed by the Department for Transport to begin to rectify that policy decision. As I alluded to earlier, underinvestment in railways in Wales means that our maintenance costs are higher. Wales’s share of maintenance and renewal spending is higher because much of it is necessitated by the fact that Wales’s railway infrastructure is older and in poorer condition than elsewhere. The Wales Audit Office calculated that between 2011 and 2016, the Welsh Government spent £226 million on infrastructure enhancements over and above Network Rail’s spending of £1.4 billion, most of which—I reiterate—was spent on maintenance rather than on enhancements.
Opponents of the type of high subsidies that we are requesting would use those figures to say that there is no reason to invest more in rail infrastructure in Wales.
If I can make a technical point, does the right hon. Lady accept that because the UK Government have not invested in rail enhancement, maintenance costs have risen and the productivity of the lines has fallen? We have ended up in a situation whereby the Welsh Government pay the bills by taking money from other needs, such as health, to make up for the lack of investment by the UK Government, with the net effect that there is less money and lower productivity for the poorer nation, which is disgraceful.
Yes, and we see that happening over and over again. The hon. Gentleman mentioned other service areas. I could mention the police as well, because the Welsh Government fund a number of additional police community support officers.
In effect, the people of Wales are suffering from a double whammy to maintain services in Wales, because they are paying in two instances. We are talking specifically about HS2 and the £6 billion. That money could make a measurable and significant difference to a Government dedicated to putting the interests of Wales first. It is deeply disingenuous of the UK Government to argue that Wales should be treated differently from Scotland and Northern Ireland, when treating it in the same way would make a clear difference to the rail infrastructure that we presently have, which is being maintained only to keep us in the status quo and is insufficient.
The additional subsidies that we are having to provide in Wales are a symptom of the chronic underinvestment in capital spending, which inevitably results in far higher maintenance costs. Capital spending on essential infrastructure such as railways should be seen as an investment and not as a burden; it should be a driver in addressing inequality. It should be seen as something that Wales needs as well as deserves, and of course it would reduce overall maintenance costs and provide a better service in the long term.
It is important to note that the costs of infrastructure projects in general have been driven up by a combination of covid-19-related supply chain disruptions and inflationary pressures, pushing up the costs of materials and skilled labour. The Welsh Affairs Committee recently heard of one such example in correspondence from the chief executive of Transport for Wales. He set out how the pandemic, escalating inflation and the consequences of leaving the EU have combined to push up the projected cost of the south Wales metro from £738 million to over £1 billion. These are political changes, and I would expect the Government in Westminster to take some responsibility for their role in aspects of them.
The impact of inflation on infrastructure projects in Wales must be considered in the wider context of the limited fiscal settlement within which the Welsh Government operate. Limits placed on their borrowing capacity and the clawback mechanism, which penalises them for carrying money over from one financial year to the next, combine to restrict the Welsh Government’s ability to deliver large-scale infrastructure projects.
Of course, this debate is part of a much wider discussion about how Wales’s fiscal settlement locks the economy into a damaging cycle of low productivity. However, for the purposes of today’s debate, I simply urge the UK Government to look again at the Welsh Government’s request that their borrowing capacity be increased, at the very least in line with inflation, and that consideration be given to the Welsh Government’s means of carrying money over, as Westminster can choose to do.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that, in addition, the end of EU structural funding, which has a timespan of about seven years, means that Wales is not in a position independently to invest in infrastructure over the medium to long term, and that it needs that investment and assurance, and the devolution of rail infrastructure?
Indeed. Of course, if anything requires a long-term strategy from Government, it is rail infrastructure. The short-term approach to replacing European structural funds that we have seen so far is desperately inadequate for our communities in Wales.
I am glad to hear from Labour about the constitutional arrangements for railways—I hope that that may foretell a fortunate route—but as things stand they are highly dysfunctional. The current arrangements are such that Wales has powers over the operation of trains but not over the track. That does not work; it is highly inefficient, and it has been a major barrier to developing a fully integrated public transport network across communities in Wales.
Unlike in Scotland, nearly all infrastructure planning and the funding of Network Rail in Wales is reserved to the UK Parliament, aside from in relation to certain lines, such as the core valley lines. That makes it very hard to integrate other forms of devolved public transport, such as buses and active transport, with rail.
The Wales Governance Centre calculates that for Wales there is a strong financial case for the full devolution of rail infrastructure along the lines of the Scotland model, and analysis of Network Rail enhancement spending between 2011-12 and 2019-20 indicates that Wales would have benefited from an additional £540 million of spending under a devolved system during that period. Not only would devolution be beneficial on a policy level, but Wales would be better off economically.
I urge the UK Government—again—to redesignate English rail projects such as HS2 as benefiting England only, so that Wales would receive the Barnett consequential funding we have every reason to expect. This is a matter of justice and fairness, not charity. Wales is entitled to receive the same funding for railways as elsewhere in the UK, but it is not. In the longer term, we want to tackle the climate crisis, improve productivity and enhance the wellbeing of people in Wales. Devolution with respect to rail infrastructure to achieve that is essential. Diolch yn fawr.
It is a pleasure once again to serve under your chairship, Mrs Cummins, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Christina Rees on introducing this important debate on Welsh rail infrastructure. She is indeed passionate about rail as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for rail in Wales, and I have seen that passion for myself thanks to her active participation in and support for the all-party parliamentary group on the western rail link to Heathrow—a long overdue project that would benefit the good people of Wales as well as people in my Slough constituency and beyond.
As we witnessed the last time we debated this very issue in detail in Westminster Hall, there are strong feelings on both sides of the House, although one could not detect such feelings today owing to the fact that not one Welsh Conservative Member has come to speak in the debate. Connecting Wales within and across its borders is a matter of great importance not just for the people of Wales, but for those who visit, work and enjoy all that that great country has to offer, as my wife and I had the pleasure of doing when we went to Snowdonia in north Wales.
As my hon. Friend Jessica Morden eloquently explained, it is vital that rail infrastructure in Wales does not fall behind owing to underfunding and lack of attention, as is currently the case under the Conservative UK Government, particularly at a time when we need to be building up our rail capacity and ensuring that we have the greenest, most accessible and most affordable network possible.
The latest numbers indicate that passenger journeys in Wales hit 17.7 million last year, with more than 60% of those journeys occurring within Wales. However, that is a 41% decrease in passenger numbers compared with 2019-20. Ensuring that passenger numbers increase and that more people in Wales can easily travel by rail have only increased in importance post-covid, but with failing infrastructure impacting services, passengers will be increasingly likely to choose more convenient but more polluting alternatives. We must halt the backwards slide caused by the pandemic and ensure that the best possible infrastructure is in place and delivering for Welsh passengers.
The previous Labour Government ensured that there was devolution in many forms and ensured that the Welsh Government could have greater control, and the 2021 Welsh Affairs Committee report, “Railway Infrastructure in Wales”, with which the Minister is no doubt familiar, outlined clearly the connection between enhanced rail infrastructure, integrated public transport, decarbonisation and, ultimately, improved quality of life. That is clearly something that we all stand behind today. Improved rail infrastructure has the power to transform. However, poor passenger experience, due to failing infrastructure, will undoubtedly drive down passenger numbers, and all the hard work put into the network by the Welsh Labour Government will unfortunately prove futile.
As my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and for Newport East both noted, the Welsh Government, along with Transport for Wales, are fulfilling their part of the deal. They have come to agreement with the unions on industrial disputes, avoiding strikes; they launched a new fleet of trains earlier this year; and they will be ensuring the roll-out of smart ticketing on the Wales and Borders network. I witnessed that recently on a trip towards Chester, when I discussed cross-border enhancements. They have even made a commitment to ensuring that overhead lines on the core valley lines will be powered by 100% renewable energy, with at least 50% of the energy from Wales.
The hon. Gentleman is describing many very beneficial investments, but can he commit that the Labour manifesto will include a commitment to devolved rail infrastructure, and to reinstating the England-only nature of HS2 and similar England-only rail investment, so that Wales receives the full Barnett consequentials it deserves?
We will look into what further devolution can be provided, and I will elaborate on HS2 in due course. With each success that the Welsh Labour Government deliver, they ensure there is a better and stronger railway, but the reality is that their hands are tied on infrastructure. Passengers are paying the price for years of underfunding of key projects.
Despite the fact that the Wales route covers 11% of the UK network, as my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea West and for Newport East mentioned, between 2011 and 2016 it received 1.6% of the enhancement budget for that period. That persistent and historical lack of proportional funding has come at a cost. The people of Wales are tired of hearing the same excuses, as we have heard today. On HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, colleagues have made it clear where they and their constituents stand. With the Government’s current position on Barnett consequentials, they must ensure better connectivity to HS2, and the timely and on-budget delivery of the project.
The Minister must deliver more tangible benefits for Wales. I would be grateful if he outlined exactly how he will make this possible by improving cross-border connectivity, particularly to HS2 stations. Sadly, this comes on top of industry stakeholders and passengers being left in the lurch with other future rail infrastructure projects. With the rail network enhancement pipeline consistently delayed, perhaps the Department could shed light on that, considering that the projects within it could give much-needed clarity and benefits to Wales.
In this Parliament, the Government have promised the publication of RNEP more than 40 times, saying they will deliver it “as soon as possible”, “very shortly”, “in due course”, “in the near future”, “in the coming months”, and after spending reviews that come and go. It is like an episode of “Yes, Minister”. Three and a half years since the last annual update of RNEP, we are still waiting. Considering the importance of that work for the future of Welsh railway infrastructure, will the Minister finally give a definitive publication date?
Unfortunately, the theme of the Department for Transport under the leadership of this Tory Government seems to be dither, delay and disappointment: no RNEP, no details on Great British Railways, and now there are concerns about further funding cuts to Network Rail. Is that the Government’s vision for the future of our railways? In Wales, that lack of clarity means projects are left in limbo. It is unclear how Wales will fit into the new system of running our railways, and vital funding for safety and maintenance has been called into question.
There has been some good work—my hon. Friend the Member for Neath noted that some level boarding enhancements have been implemented to improve disabled accessibility—but much more needs to be done. Rail lines in south Wales and between Holyhead and Crewe need enhancements and electrification. A future Labour Government will deliver an annual rolling programme of electrification of our railway lines to benefit the good people of Wales, not just people in other parts of the country.
Will the Minister provide some reassurance on that and outline how his Government’s plans will impact Welsh rail infrastructure and services? Further uncertainty will simply not cut it. The Government must not continue to sideline Welsh railway infrastructure and provide chronic underfunding for people in Wales. The Welsh Government’s work to ensure people have a real choice in how they travel is vital, but their bold vision needs the support of the UK Government. A future Labour Government will provide that support to deliver a greener, fairer, brighter future for everyone.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Cummins. I send my best wishes to the good people of Bradford, who also have a very good case when it comes to rail investment. I will leave it there, but you know exactly what I mean.
I thank Christina Rees for opening this debate on Welsh rail infrastructure, and for chairing the all-party parliamentary group. I really enjoyed her speech. Her love for the railways—if not for other modes of transport that cause her to hold her stomach—is heartwarming. As the spelling of my name suggests, Wales is the land of my father. Indeed, my daughter is now at Cardiff University, so I have a lot of time for it; it is very close to my heart.
Notwithstanding the fiscal challenges facing the Government, the March Budget confirmed funding for rail enhancements for the next five years. We are supporting ambitious and transformative growth plans for our railways. Through the excellent collaboration mechanisms that we have established with the Welsh Government and other stakeholders in Wales, there is now a real opportunity to drive forward sustainable, integrated transport solutions that deliver for the people of Wales and the wider UK economy.
Sir Peter Hendy’s recent Union connectivity review, which hon. Members have mentioned, recognised and endorsed the quality of work undertaken by the South East Wales Transport Commission and other pan-regional groups in Wales. I look forward to the North Wales Transport Commission’s report later this year, and to working with stakeholders in Wales to tackle strategic transport needs and deliver improvements for all rail users.
I want to address the points that hon. Members made about rail funding in Wales and the case for HS2, but first I will take a moment to address the basis on which rail enhancements are funded across Great Britain. The UK Secretary of State for Transport is responsible for funding and specifying Network Rail infrastructure for England and Wales, and Scottish Ministers have devolved responsibility for funding and specifying rail infrastructure in Scotland. The funding arrangements follow those responsibilities. The UK Department for Transport is therefore funded to spend money on heavy rail infrastructure in Wales, but rail in Scotland does not benefit from any UK Department for Transport spending. The Scottish Government receive Barnett-based funding so that they can fund Network Rail themselves. Those arrangements are the same as for other responsibilities that are reserved in England and Wales, but devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Turning to HS2—
I will complete the HS2 part, because I sense the hon. Gentleman might have something to add on that.
Although Wales will not receive any HS2 services, it is positively impacted by HS2’s construction and operation. As I have stated, the UK Government are responsible for heavy rail infrastructure across England and Wales; they spend money in Wales directly rather than funding the Welsh Government to do so. Current plans would see Welsh passengers benefiting from an interchange at Crewe, with HS2 providing shorter journey times to north Wales than is currently possible on the west coast main line. Journeys from Bangor to London using new HS2 services will take an estimated two hours and 30 minutes, down from the current three hours and 17 minutes on the direct Avanti West Coast services. HS2 will free up capacity on the existing west coast main line, which could be used for additional services.
Passengers from Wales will be able to quickly access services to Heathrow and central London via an interchange at Old Oak Common with the Elizabeth line, as the hon. Member for Neath mentioned, without having to go via London Paddington. HS2 will continue to provide Welsh companies and workers with opportunities to work in the HS2 supply chain—44 of HS2 suppliers are Welsh small and medium-sized enterprises. We will of course continue to engage collaboratively with Transport for Wales and regional stakeholders in Wales and border areas as we progress proposals for improved connectivity and journey times on the existing rail network while HS2 comes into being.
The Minister pointed out that infrastructure investment is devolved to Scotland and therefore the money for England and Wales would all be spent in England. The assumption is that Wales will benefit, which it does not. Does he accept that there is a compelling case for infrastructure investment or enhancement to be devolved completely to Wales so that we get our 5% share over time, in the same way as Scotland has had its 8% share over time? We have the infrastructure and Transport for Wales to deliver those projects. Is he working with Transport for Wales to ensure that that happens?
To answer the hon. Gentleman’s point, we remain committed to the position as stated. It will continue to be the case that the UK Government will fund the projects in England and Wales, and I will talk a little bit about the enhancement pipeline. This point needs to be made more to Mr Dhesi. I listened carefully to his question about HS2’s Barnett consequentials, which will add to the bill for HS2. It is already a mission of mine to restrain costs to the level that we are currently running. I did not receive a clear answer, so if he believes, as I think he stated, that the Welsh Government will be in this space, it will be interesting to get absolute clarity—not just, “We will look at it.” Is it the case that all of the points he has made will add to the bill for HS2?
I thank the Minister, because he allows me time to provide clarification. It was the previous Labour Government that provided devolution so that the good people of Wales could decide on more aspects of their lives on a day-to-day basis. That is why we have said that we will look into further devolution on aspects such as transport—unlike the current Government, who say they fund the rail and transport infrastructure for the whole of England and Wales. That is all fine and dandy, but they are not providing sufficient infrastructure spend in Wales. The problem is chronic underspending, and that is something that the Minister still has not explained.
I was very excited when the hon. Member said he would answer that point, because it was a pretty direct one. I have said that we will not look to add the Barnett consequentials bill that his Back Benchers have requested, so I have been very clear on that front. The question is whether he would do so. I do not know whether other hon. Members felt that they got a clear answer to that, but I did not. To the Labour Back Benchers who are calling on me to do this, I say that I have been very clear that we will not be doing so. I am not entirely sure what their position is.
I will not give way, because I have given way already twice before. [Interruption.] As Geraint Davies has pointed out, I have given him a lot of my time to discuss these matters. I have done so with courtesy and, I hope, with interest. I have always been direct in responding, as I was just now. I hope he will afford me the same courtesy as I continue with the speech.
The UK Government have supported the Welsh Government in their ambition to have greater control over Welsh rail infrastructure. That is evident in the collaborative approach we took to working with our partners to divest the core valley lines to the Welsh Government in 2020. The Department’s response to the Silk Commission’s recommendations concluded that
“full devolution of Welsh rail infrastructure would be of no immediate benefit to passengers and freight.”
That view was endorsed by the Welsh Affairs Committee in 2021.
As I have not given way to the right hon. Lady, I will do so.
I thank the Minister. The fact that he has raised that point is immensely significant. Will the Government reconsider their position in the light of their announcement of their intentions for the freeports in Pembrokeshire, Port Talbot and Holyhead, and for freight? That is my major question.
It disappoints me to hear the argument that we should accept the contracts that are being given to Wales-based organisations as the only thing that Wales deserves from HS2. Frankly, that is very short-termist, and I would expect a UK Government to ensure that those contracts were fairly distributed throughout the UK. On freeports, there is a chance here to reconsider.
Order. I remind Members that interventions should be short and to the point.
I gently point out that I did not say that the one benefit to Wales would be the Welsh additions to the HS2 supply chain and workforce. I listed a whole number of benefits relating to service times as well. That is on the record in Hansard.
I am passionate about what HS2 will do for the UK in its entirety. It will bring great benefits. It runs through the spine and will allow better connectivity to Wales and back into England, and vice versa. It has a huge amount to add, so I believe that once it is built, the benefits will be there for hon. Members not only to see, but to enjoy and use. It will level up all parts of England and Wales as a consequence, and it will have those benefits. I am passionate about what HS2 is delivering. I felt that there was too much negativity in the room for me not to make that point.
I will make some progress. I want to be clear: we are investing in Welsh railways. In its most recent statistics published for 2020-21, the Office of Rail and Road reports that Government funding of the operational railway was £2.04 per passenger mile in England and £3.85 per passenger mile in Wales. That is almost 90% higher. The current railway control period—control period 6 between 2019 and 2024—saw a record £2 billion revenue settlement for Network Rail in Wales, which is more than double the £900 million invested previously. Of that, almost £1 billion is being spent on renewing and upgrading infrastructure to meet the current and future needs of all passengers, such as the complete restoration of the iconic Barmouth viaduct in Gwynedd. The development and delivery of enhancements to the railway network in Wales is also proceeding at pace. Passengers benefit from new stations, providing additional connectivity, together with improved accessibility at existing locations.
Will the Minister clear up something that I am not too sure about? In the original plans for HS2, at Crewe there was to be a connectivity hub that would face Wales, to join interconnecting services from Transport for Wales and other companies that would feed in. Is that still on the table, or has it been scrapped?
I will write to the hon. Lady, because I am due to work across Government to try to boost the ambitions for Crewe as HS2 comes to it. Only last week, I had a meeting with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to discuss Crewe and what we could do to make sure HS2 leaves an ambitious legacy there. I will write to her, because those discussions and our intended deep dive may give her the further detail that she is deserving of.
I was mid-flow; I was about to say that level crossings are being upgraded to allow Transport for Wales to operate longer and more frequent trains on routes across Wales. Signalling systems are being upgraded to state-of-the-art digital technology, which will support the introduction of new high-performance Welsh-built trains with greatly improved passenger facilities and comfort. The Cardiff capital region is benefiting from more than £250 million of UK Government investment in the core valley lines, Cardiff Crossrail and the transformation of Cardiff Central station—schemes that can be delivered only through strong and effective collaboration with the Welsh Government and local authority partners. I am committed to that collaboration.
That work is happening now, but there is a lot more coming down the pipeline. Hon. Members will know that Lord Hendy’s independent review of UK transport connectivity was published in November 2021. In response, the Government set aside funding to support feasibility studies into options for strengthening some of the UK’s main transport arteries, in line with Lord Hendy’s recommendations. I am pleased to say that my Department’s officials have been engaging positively with the devolved Administrations and delivery bodies to identify potential projects for that funding to support.
I believe that Jessica Morden mentioned the south Wales relief lines upgrade. That is now being progressed to a full business case, which the Department will carefully consider very shortly. We will continue to engage with the Welsh Government, with Transport for Wales and with the other devolved Administrations and will consider opportunities to collaborate further on projects that address the recommendations of the Hendy review.
Looking further ahead, the way people use the railway is changing. We are investing in ensuring that it supports passengers, freight and the economy of the future. I can tell the hon. Member for Neath not only that will we provide more details about the enhancement pipeline, but that we are signing off on projects and getting on with them right now. They have to be affordable, while also responding to demand for travel. In that context, and in response to a recommendation from the Welsh Affairs Committee, we are pleased to have established a Wales Rail Board to further strengthen collaboration between the UK and Welsh Governments. The board, which meets regularly, is establishing a strategic programme of rail infrastructure and service development in Wales, including cross-border connectivity. That programme will represent a shared vision between the UK and Welsh Governments on the rail infrastructure required to address strategic transport issues and deliver meaningful benefits to the population of Wales and the United Kingdom.
Let me move to the matter of the global centre of rail excellence. I welcome the great news given to us today by the hon. Member for Neath, who has been a great champion of this constituency jewel. She has invited me to visit it; I look forward to doing so, I rather hope by the end of June. The establishment of the centre, which is supported by £30 million of UK Government funding alongside contributions from the Welsh Government and the private sector, has the potential to support innovation in the UK’s rail industry and put Wales firmly on the map as a powerhouse in the testing of cutting-edge technology. I look forward to visiting. I also look forward to visiting, if I can, CAF Wales, as it is so nearby. I am grateful for the invitation.
Time is pressing, and I should mention the hon. Lady’s point about the Restoring Your Railway scheme and the restoration of the closed Beeching lines. We have had a very successful programme, and more than 200 right hon. and hon. Members have sponsored projects. Of course, it is not possible to take all projects forward, but I am proud that we are able to take some forward. I have already visited one that has opened, and many more will be invested in.
Access for All was also mentioned. It is important that we ensure that the railway is accessible to all. Some 220 stations across the UK have been made fully accessible, and another 1,500 stations have been given improvements to assist in that regard. Another programme is available, and I look forward to assessing applications.
I will not, if the hon. Member does not mind. I have given him quite a lot of time, and I want to hand back to the hon. Member for Neath. No doubt we will speak afterwards.
Investment in Wales’s transport infrastructure is an investment in future generations, not just for Wales but for the whole UK. Ensuring that our transport capability matches our great ambitions for our constituents’ prosperity and wellbeing is a priority for this Government that I know everyone in this room shares. We owe it to our hard-working constituents to invest in the most sustainable forms of transport for the future, delivering both on the green industrial revolution and on our pledge to grow and level up the economy and create opportunities for everyone across Wales and the UK. I conclude by thanking the hon. Member for Neath for calling this debate.
I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Newport East (Jessica Morden) and for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), Liz Saville Roberts and my hon. Friend Beth Winter, who have shown their passion, vast knowledge and commitment to improving all aspects of rail infrastructure in Wales. The Minister has heard our concerns. I urge him to fight for funding to improve rail infrastructure in Wales.
I look forward to the Minister’s visit to the global centre of rail excellence—I am sure he could bring his daughter as well. I extend the invitation to all hon. Members here today, including the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi. You should visit too, Mrs Cummins: I know what a champion you are for improving rail infrastructure in your Bradford South constituency.
And the buses.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered railway infrastructure in Wales.