Sunday, 4 July 2010


It looks like Wales may miss out on any chance of rail electrification this time thanks to a combination of New / Old Labour and the same old Tories. With Whitehall tightening its belts and facing significant spending cuts there is a real and growing concern that the proposed upgrade of the Swansea to Severn Tunnel (and on to London) railway may yet end up as a casualty of Tory spending cuts. No doubt New / Old Labour will be quick to blame the Tories (they have after all done this for years, even when they have been in power), but that would hide the fact that both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's New Labour Government long ignored Wales and Welsh issues.  

The planned rail upgrade, was however, conspicuously absent from the George Osborne's list of capital projects that were to take place before his Budget speech. The rail project is being reconsidered as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, which is due to be published in the autumn. With the Tories getting ready for what are expected to be pretty savage and deep spending cuts, what guarantees can be extracted for this key project to proceed - a good question that is in need a serious and urgent answer.

More locally within Gwent, the National Assembly's commitment (in March 2010) to finish the work on Gaer junction, so that direct trains can run between Newport and Ebbw Vale was warmly welcomed, along with the prospects of a new railway station in Ebbw Vale town centre and an hourly service. These are important small steps forward to improve our public transport infrastructure and to give people a real choice when it comes to using their cars or not. Now, while it it obvious that much more needs to be done, these improvements should be completed despite the threat of immanent budget cuts.

Elsewhere in south Gwent, there is much that can be done to improve our rail services. Both Caerleon and Magor would benefit from new railway station's and serious consideration should be given to reopening the line to Usk from Little Mill, In recent years we have seen hard won improvements to Severn Tunnel Junction, yet even here there is room for improvement. No to mention the fact that better facilities and better access is needed at Caldicot, Chepstow and Abergavenny Stations, as well as more frequent stopping services.

The National Assembly does not have the same powers over transport as does the Scottish Parliament (it should) and neither does it have the same financial settlement (Wales needs fair funding) - but despite these limits there is much that can be done. We also need to get serious about getting freight off the roads and onto the rails where it belongs - if this can be done along with rail electrification then we can reduce both pollution and road congestion. If Government wants to change the way we use public transport when we need a public transport system that's fit for purpose and fit for us to use.

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