Huw Irranca-Davies MS: 

Minister, I organised a three-hour public meeting recently, with TfW and Network Rail, attended by over 60 people from across Ogmore and the area, who raised their concerns politely but robustly—because that’s the way we are—about the service along the Maesteg-Cardiff line and our hopes for improvement. We’ve subsequently had the welcome phased introduction this week of new rolling stock, which is brilliant, but we continue to have punctuality problems and cancellations, so we are looking forward to TfW and Network Rail coming back for another meeting shortly.

However, the long-running demand for a half-hourly service, which I’ve championed since before I came to the Senedd, was also raised. Minister, you and your predecessors have met with me and council leader Huw David before on this. To their credit, and as a result of those meetings, proposals have been worked up, I know, by TfW and Network Rail, for a half-hourly service.

But the stumbling block is always funding, linked to the digitalisation of the signalling at Tondu, so we can get rid of the Victorian signal box and the physical handing-over of a key, and other Tondu improvements. And that funding needs to come from Network Rail UK. So, Minister, how can you help us in taking forward those discussions at a UK level, as well as Welsh Government and local authority, so we can have the decades overdue investment in this, which will then enable us to take forward a half-hourly service?

Deputy Minister for Climate Change:

Thank you for the question. He is right—he has been a persistent advocate of the importance of the scheme, and I’ve been able to meet him a couple of times to discuss it. I think the fundamental problem here, and we’ve seen this in other parts of Wales, is that we are part of an investment area called the ‘western region’ within Network Rail. So, we, alongside London and Penzance, are all up together for the same pot of cash, and the economic analysis that the Department for Transport use to justify rail schemes—a sort of cost-benefit analysis—is always going to favour those schemes in the most densely populated areas. So, when a scheme to Maesteg is up against a scheme in the Thames valley, given the density of the population and the economy of those different areas, it is always going to come down the list, and that’s what’s happened time and time again.

Now, I notice that the UK Minister for Transport for England is publishing his new rail Bill, to set up the creation of a new Great British Railways, which is a guiding mind of its own at the UK level, which we agree is sensible. But, instead of the existing functions of the Secretary of State being handed over to that body, we want there to be reform. Ultimately, we want full devolution of rail powers and funding, as the McAllister-Williams commission recommended. But, as an interim measure, we want Wales to have what Scotland has, which is its own region within Network Rail, so that we can set the priorities for where investment goes. The Ebbw Vale line is an excellent example of a line that did not meet the DfT test in 2008 when it was built. We built it from devolved funding. Demand far outstripped expectations, and we’ve now been able to enhance that service further. Now, that wouldn’t happen under the traditional Network Rail system, and I fear Maesteg has suffered a similar fate. So, we do need a separate Wales division within Network Rail, with funding and autonomy for Wales to make our own choices on where investment goes. And also then, of course, we need the extra funding for rail, which is a non-devolved area, because Wales has been under-served for decades.

In terms of the specific point he makes, I’d be very happy to convene a meeting with Network Rail and him and the leader of Bridgend council, Councillor Huw David, to make the case again for Network Rail to understand the circumstances of Maesteg and how important a half-hourly service would be.


Link to Instagram Link to Twitter Link to YouTube Link to Facebook Link to LinkedIn Link to Snapchat Close Fax Website Location Phone Email Calendar Building Search