Monday, 21 January 2013

Network Rail's plans for Wales until 2019

A few weeks ago, Network Rail unveiled their Strategic Business Plan for 2014-2019. The overall aim of the strategic plan is to improve capacity (i.e. more carriages, longer platforms) and help meet UK Government targets to mitigate climate change and CO2 emissions.

They've already committed £874million towards Great Western Line electrification, and there's at least a further ~£350million in the pipeline for Valley Lines electrification.

The Great Western Line to Swansea will be electrified by 2018 and the Valley Lines by 2024 at the latest (it's likely to be sooner than that). A Welsh Government funded £45million improvement to North-South services should be completed by 2015.

The idea is that electrification will reduce maintenance costs (as the trains are lighter) and would enable current diesel trains to be replaced by "refurbished" electric ones, which have faster acceleration and would hopefully shave journey times.

The fact it takes so long to get from the heads of the valleys into Cardiff – a journey of 30 miles tops - is ludicrous and has been for decades. It takes an hour to get from Merthyr, Ebbw Vale and Rhymney to Cardiff Central, just over an hour from Treherbert and around 50 minutes from Maesteg. And that's before you factor in any possible delays.

Additional platforms are being provided at Cardiff Central and Cardiff Queen Street (the latter is currently under construction) which will enable more trains to and from the Valleys per hour. There's also new platforms planned/under construction at Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Barry. A passing loop will be constructed at Tir Phil on the Rhymney line, which will enable a half-hourly services to/from Rhymney itself.

I don't think there are any new stations planned over the next few years (by Network Rail or the Welsh Government) other than Energlyn (Caerphilly), Caerleon and Brackla (Bridgend). There's much more commentary on that at Plaid Monmouth.

There are also other strategic priorities:
  • Various resignaling projects across Wales, all delivered by 2017. North Wales resignalling should be completed by 2020.
  • Making the Welsh Marches Line (Newport-Shrewsbury) a "strategic freight route".
  • "Improving" services between Shewsbury-Aberystwyth, Cardiff-Manchester and along the north Wales coast.
  • Improving the track to allow heavier freight trains to use docks and freight terminals in south Wales (Cardiff, Barry, Wentloog)
  • Improve platform safety for vulnerable users (i.e. Elderly, disabled)
  • Develop an annual route vegetation clearance plan (i.e. prevent leaves on the line)
  • Reduce railway crime through improved fencing, public information, removing scrap and identifying "high risk level crossings".

The Assembly's Enterprise and Business Committee are currently undertaking an inquiry into integrated public transport. Obviously, as I said further up, electrification may improve journey times slightly as well as service reliability, helping the Welsh Government meet their own targets. Obviously I'll cover any committee report once it's produced, presumably sometime later this year.

They recently released a video of Nick Ramsey AM (Con, Monmouth) using buses and trains between Cardiff and Swansea to promote the inquiry. I found it funny for reasons I can't quite explain, I guess it's just my sense of humour.
"An epic journey of self-discovery. An exceptional piece of minimalist Welsh cinema. ****" - Oggy Bloggy Ogwr

As always though, Wales is a "special case" or "basket case".

As rail infrastructure funding isn't devolved, ours is on an EnglandandWales basis. Scotland's is separate. There is, however, a separate route plan for Wales which outlines Network Rail's plans here in more detail. Network Rail devolved itself - operationally - to Wales back in 2011.

So, the Welsh Government could fund a station, or a re-opened line out of their own pocket, but wouldn't have been able to carry out something as large or "new" as electrification. Devolution in action, everybody.

Scotland is planning to spend just over £4billion. Wales' proportional share of Network Rail's £37.5billion spend should be £1.87billion. Discounting the stretch of Great Western Line that's in England, and not including the resignalling works, I think it's safe to say it falls several hundred million pounds short of that.

If funding were devolved along the same lines as Scotland, and if the Welsh Government wanted to do it, I doubt Wales would be waiting so long for Valley Lines electrification to be completed. It probably would've been done years ago.


  1. and "refurbished" so someone elses cast offs - again!

    1. Yep the Cardiff Valley will be receiing class 313 & 315 emu's from Southern and Greater Anglia.

      There is a push to run an hourly/half hourly service from Swansea to Bristol Temple Meads and Bath Spa which would most likely be worked by class 319 emu's from Thameslink

  2. Highly agree with what you've written here. Devolution has been suppressed and slowed in Wales on many levels, Rail and Transport is one of the many I could list. Again this is a problem Labour have not grasped in Wales but the people have not reacted and kicked them out, even after a 13 year slip our economy has suffered under their mis-management. Plaid Cymru must have a good manifesto in 3 years to really show how devolution can work for people, Labour are missing target after target and shift the blame for doing so. Its not expectable anymore we deserve better from our own government.

  3. Rail infrastructure devolution was advocated by Plaid Cymru in a debate last year and the Tories basically said "but part of the line is in England". It really poses the question. Part of the official Wales Route includes the borders line. Which is why "we" (or, the German public sector, depending on which way you look at it) have a Wales and Borders rail franchise. Network Rail basically includes part of England in Wales. You could only ever devolve the Wales Route, you couldn't simply draw a line across the track.

    Would it be legally justifiable to give Wales control of a railway line in England? I think yes, seeing as the Welsh Government has statutory responsibility for management (but not renewal) of a franchise that includes England, the precedent is obviously there. But the Tories will kick back against this.

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Cibwr - Yup! Apparantly the mooted new ones won't be too different from the existing ones, just electric instead of diesel. I think they are currently used in the London area.

    Luke - Labour only think as far as the next election when it doesn't involve a topic that "interests them". Actually, come to think of it that's a problem in many parties. That's why we end up with so many short-term policies with no real fundamental long-term ones - except in areas like health. At least Plaid think a little bit more long-term, and they need to due to their goals, it's just they haven't always been practical in the past. That's changing though.

    Anon 10:06 - I would think of rail services as cross-border, with the likes of the border lines under Welsh "custodianship". It's the Welsh Government funding a bulk of services in Herefordshire and Shropshire after all. As long as the two governments are sensible about it there shouldn't be any problems. It's not like no other part of the world has ever had to deal with things like this. Look at mainland Europe, or even Northern Ireland.

  5. To reply to my synonym above, it has to be noted Labour devolved more rail powers to Wales than the Tories/Lib Dems have. I think really the coalition has to step up to the mark and deliver what is put to them in part 2 of the Silk Commission. For their part of the bargain, Labour have to put in strong evidence showing they want this devolved.

    Blaming Labour is easy but we (Plaid) need them to also sign up to our policies where possible

  6. Thanks Luke #2.

    Labour did indeed devolve the powers back in 2006 I think. However, all of these things could've been done and dusted in one fell swoop by having a Scottish-style Parliament with Scottish-style powers. Instead, it's a constant drip-drip of tiny powers which are inconsequential by themselves.

    Of course, if Labour didn't have these constitutional carrots to dangle in front of Plaid every now and again it would make any potential coalition negotiations more difficult for them, but that's politics.Technically, I'm still an ordinary member of the public, so I have a right to say that politics operating along those likes is crippling Wales and devolution's image.