Wednesday, 7 November 2012


There are clear signs that the Scottish Government is delivering for Scotland, one example of this took place yesterday when the responsibility for delivering a rail route from the Borders to Edinburgh was been officially passed to Network Rail. Scottish Government Transport Secretary Keith Brown signed the agreement at a ceremony at Newtongrange in Midlothian. The agreement passed responsibility for completing the Borders line, with 30 miles of new track and seven new stations, from Transport Scotland to Network Rail.

Visible progress on the Borders Rail Project
Scottish Government Ministers hope that the £294 million pound project will be completed by the end of 2014, although the contract sets a final deadline of summer 2015. One visible measure of progress is the preparatory work to clear clearing vegetation and removal of buildings and bridges, has already been carried out along the line. Once the project is completed trains return to the Borders for the first time in more than 40 years.

When it comes to the Welsh Government visibly delivering for Wales I struggle to find significant concrete evidence beyond some the transport infrastructure projects brought in by the One Wales Government. Unfortunately for us here in Wales, the Con Dem Westminster Government and the Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff are nominally running the shop. They are not really interested in developing an integrated public transport across the valleys, across the south east and the rest of our country.

Plaid in Monmouth has regularly called for improvements to existing rail services and facilities and a series of feasibility studies to investigate re-opening previously closed railways as has happened in Scotland. In the south east, we need Abergavenny and Chepstow railway stations to be real gateways, with fully integrated local bus services. We need better facilities at Severn Tunnel Junction and Caldicot railway stations and the provision of adequate safe secure parking facilities. We need feasibility studies into the development of a Parkway Station at Little Mill and the possibilities of re-opening the railway line from Little Mill to Usk and the development of a new railway station at Usk.

Driver Training on Gaer Spur in 2009 (Photo: Ian Brewer)
The Welsh Government needs to commit to reopening the final stage of the rail-link from Ebbw Vale to Newport along with new railway stations at Caerleon and Magor which would help to reduce road congestion. Such developments would provide a regular rail service to local residents and reduce the ever increasing traffic burden from already overcrowded roads. The re-opening of Pontrilas Railway station (in south Herefordshire) for passenger traffic (and timber shipments) would also help, as would a feasibility study into developing regional rail freight services, removing heavy Lorries from local roads.

Buying our heads in the sand is not an option, as we face a future where cheap fuel is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. We need to ensure that all our communities have reasonable access to a reliable cheap system of integrated public transport, at the heart of which should be our long neglected rail network. The old excuses about a lack of funding are not acceptable, as even when times were good, there was little evidence of any real commitment or action to improve things here in Wales from Westminster.

A devolutionary half-way house won't work anymore; it will not deliver or even give us the chance to deliver, even with legislative powers. We make up 5% of the population of the UK, and have made (and continue to make) significant contributions to the exchequer.  If Unionists want to the Union to work then we need 5% of the UK transport spend, and full control of our transport planning and our transport budget.

The changes and reforms that are necessary to fix the problems in our country means that we need the tools to do the job. The botched and complicated LCO system for creating legislation barely worked and was consigned to the dustbin of history. The old system did not work with a nominally Labour Government and was never going to work with a Conservative dominated Government which is indifferent to any concept of devolution in particular and the needs of Wales in particular.

Even with legislative powers, we are still in some sort of half devolved limbo state of governance, lacking a fair financial settlement. With all the good wishes in the world this is not going to work well, even with an inert visionless former New Labour government in Cardiff. The governance of Wales if it is to be cost effective can no more be half devolved anymore than someone can be half free.

Wales needs a fair financial settlement so we can finance the construction of a decent system of integrated public transport after years of indifference. In Scotland, significant strides have been made to reopen, redevelop and build a coherent and integrated public transport system. In Wales over the last thirteen years there have been two successful railway re-openings carried out by Network Rail at the request of the National Assembly; the Vale of Glamorgan Railway Line (re-opened on Friday 10th June 2005) and the Ebbw Valley Railway Line (which was partially re-opened on Wednesday 6th February 2008).

Unlike in Scotland there was not real political dynamism at work here, these were administrative rather than legislative projects. In Scotland things were different, bills to reopen old railways were vigorously discussed, debated, scrutinised, amended and duly passed by the Scottish Parliament. If we are serious about integrated public transport then we are going to have to get serious about how we are going to develop and redevelop our public transport infrastructure.

The Transport (Wales) Act (effective from February 2006) gave the National Assembly the power to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system, how much longer do we have to wait to see some vision let alone any action? Meanwhile the rail companies are busy ramping up rail fares, and trying to reduce services, all with the tacit co-operation of Westminster Government (of various political hues) and the Department for transport.

Such blatant duplicity is not acceptable - it’s time for our government in Cardiff to take the long view and actually put its money where its mouth. The Welsh Government in Cardiff needs to work to redevelop our rail services, boost the development of rail freight and to co-ordinate rail and bus services – because Westminster even with a Labour Government will not deliver for Wales.

Wales needs to have full control of its transport policy and transport budget devolved as quickly as possible and the franchise when it is renewed in 2017 should be run on a not for profit basis.  The time for excuses has passed, ending years of neglect and indifference to our needs won’t be cheap and it won’t be easy as there is no quick fix.

We need to plan for our future but it can be done if the political will is there, as has happened in Scotland. Much can be accomplished by a combination of the will, the funding and interested private and community partners. If the Governments in London and Cardiff are really serious about cutting carbon emissions, reducing road congestion and building sustainable communities then they need to work to get people and heavy goods back onto our railways and revitalise our communities.

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