|How to redefine inertia?|
Even the most passive observer of the hitherto inert Labour in Wales Government in Cardiff should not be surprised to see that road has been chosen over rail in relation to transport priorities. This largely passive if not mostly harmless government has shelved several rail schemes that could make a real difference to people’s lives and deliver value for money in favour of questionable expensive road schemes that won’t deliver much to our communities let alone value for money.
|Road over Rail?|
Back in January (2013) the Welsh Government released figures that show that it intends to spend around £805 million pounds on finishing off the Heads of the Valleys Road (something that has been on the drawing board by my reckoning since 1958) by 2020. The Western Mail (28th February 2013) revealed that the road scheme will provide scant benefits for our economy and that seven far more beneficial rail schemes may have been quietly sidelined:
· Aberystwyth (Bow Street): new station outside the town with car parking (estimated cost between £1.5 and £2 million (2011)).This would provide a welcome boost to commutes into and out of Aberystwyth and reduce road congestion.
· Abertillery: new station and 1.5 miles of new track to link Abertillery to Ebbw Vale line at Llanhilleth (estimated cost £16.7 million (2012)). This would provide a key rail link for Abertillery to Cardiff (and eventually to Newport).
· Bridgend: new station at Brackla, upgraded track and signals at Tondu (estimated cost £12 million (2005)). This means that the train service from Maesteg to Cardiff could run every 30 minutes.
· Ebbw Vale: extra tracks and new Ebbw Vale town station (estimated cost £32 million (2012)). This means that train services could run from much closer to the town centre and could lead to further development work at Ebbw Vale Parkway, with trains running every hour from Ebbw Vale to Newport (subject to further work outside Newport) in addition to the existing service between Ebbw Vale and Cardiff.
· Llantrisant: new railway line (on old track) and new stations at St Fagans, Talbot Green, Llantrisant, Gwaun Meisgyn and Beddau (estimated cost £37 million pounds (2011)). This could provide a rail service into Cardiff.
· Nelson: new stations at Nelson, Trelewis and Bedlinog (estimated cost £7.9 million (2011)). This could boost rail services into Caerphilly and Cardiff.
· Newport and South Monmouthshire: new station at Llanwern, extra parking at Chepstow and extra parking (and road link to M48) at Severn Tunnel Junction (estimated cost £43 million (2011)). This could help provide trains from Chepstow into Cardiff every 30 minutes and cut congestion on the roads.
More locally, back in 2005, the Welsh Government promised to deliver phase 2 of the Ebbw Vale rail project, with direct trains from Ebbw Vale to Newport and an extension of the line towards Ebbw Vale and Abertillery by 2009. Some four years down the line, so to speak we are still waiting and it looks like we may wait a long time before anything gets done.
|The end of the line for the moment?|
Our own government, not the Con Dems in Westminster, has chosen to reduce investment its capital investment in railways from £37 million (2013) to £12 million (2014-15) this £16 million pound saving would not even pay 10% of the provisional costs of the Heads of the Valleys road scheme. Now it would be easy to suggest that Labour in Wales’s decision is literally be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul as the budget won’t stretch to paying for everything. Limited budgets aside for the moment, this is still a bad decision, one that does little to build (or rebuild) our fragmented public transport system.
The underlying problem is that rail investment is not yet devolved and the real decisions about significant infrastructure investment in Wales are still being made in Westminster and Whitehall. So obviously when looking at transport infrastructure spending and development with a London centric perspective tends to ensure that smaller projects that could have a significant impact here in Wales tend to drop down the long list of priorities.
This lack of budgetary authority is something that directly interferes with our ability to choose the most cost effective transport option. Full budgetary authority for transport in Wales needs to be devolved to the Welsh Government because the combination of spilt budgetary authority (between Cardiff and London) and the ineffective arms length relationship between the Welsh Government and Network Rail is not addressing our countries transport needs.
Now the lack of budgetary authority is only part of the problem. It is worth remembering that the Transport (Wales) Act (which was effective from February 2006) gave the National Assembly the power to plan and co-ordinate an integrated transport system. Now this may not sit well with what appears to be an old style Welsh Office inspired civil service that may still be thinking in London centric terms having failed to grasp the concept of devolution. That aside, the real problem is the almost total lack of any vision on the part of the Labour in Wales government, which like various other Labour groups across our country is more concerned with being there than doing anything.