New Wales Rail Board must not be a ‘talking shop’, Plaid Cymru MP warns
The newly-announced Wales Rail Board must not be a “talking shop”, a Plaid Cymru MP has warned.
The party’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts has responded to the announcement that has partially accepted a recommendation to create a dedicated forum to deliver improvements for rail passengers in Wales.
She has criticised the UK Government for “leaving us with crowded and unreliable trains that dawdle along old and crumbling tracks” and has called for a 10-year investment plan to address the situation.
The Plaid MP added that “Welsh rail will continue to be an afterthought” as long as the power over it is held by Westminster, and called for it to be fully devolved.
The new Board will have director-level representation from the UK Government’s Department for Transport, the Welsh Government, Transport for Wales, Network Rail, and other train operators serving passengers in Wales.
Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts MP said: “We already know what our railway network needs – and that’s investment. For too long, Wales has had to put up with broken promise after broken promise from Westminster, leaving us with crowded and unreliable trains that dawdle along old and crumbling tracks.
“It is therefore crucial that the Wales Rail Board is not just a talking shop but is accompanied with a 10-year investment plan that will deliver transformational change to our railway network.
“It remains the case that while powers over rail infrastructure sit in Westminster, Welsh rail will continue to be an afterthought. To build a truly national railway network for Wales that connects communities in the north, south, east and west, rail infrastructure must be fully devolved with sufficient funding to Wales.”
Welsh Affairs Committee Chair, Rt Hon Stephen Crabb MP, said: “The UK Government’s move to introduce a Wales Rail Board is very welcome news.
“We heard from numerous witnesses during our inquiry that more coordination is needed to drive investment and improvements, and I hope the Board will deliver this.
“It’s also very welcome the speed in which they will start convening, and I hope people across Wales will start feeling the benefits feed through to their railway journeys.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Our long term objective continues to be the full devolution of the rail network and a fair funding settlement for rail infrastructure in Wales.
“However, irrespective of where responsibility rests in the short term, we support the need for close strategic collaboration to ensure infrastructure is delivered to meet passenger needs and our ambitions to encourage a shift towards public transport to support our decarbonisation commitments.”
Before the announcement on the creation of the Board, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price quizzed Mark Drakeford on the subject at First Minister’s Questions in the Senedd.
He said: “Westminster’s serial neglect of Wales’s railway network has left Wales with the UK’s oldest and worst maintained track and the slowest and dirtiest trains.
“The obvious answer is for us to wrest control over own infrastructure, but, while Westminster continues to resist, can we afford to stand still?
“The Welsh Affairs Committee has recently suggested creating a Wales rail board, comprising the UK and Welsh Governments, and other key players like Transport for Wales and Network Rail, to develop a prioritised set of proposals for rail investment.
“Professor Mark Barry, originator of the south Wales metro, has suggested a 10-year plan of investment that the board could agree on, with core funding from the Welsh and UK Governments.
“Does the First Minister see merit, at least as an interim solution, in the idea of a joint board and the Barry plan, which could potentially see a threefold increase in planned investment in the Welsh railways over the coming decade?”
Mark Drakeford replied: “Well, Llywydd, I hope that the UK Government will respond positively to the recommendation of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, and if they are willing to come to the table in a form of joint arrangement, then certainly they will find us anxious to find a way of helping to make that happen. We do it in other parts of the Welsh sphere.
“Youth justice is not devolved to Wales; we have a joint youth justice board, jointly chaired by the Welsh Government and by the board itself, and it has delivered some remarkable changes here in Wales.
“It’s not impossible that we couldn’t do the same thing in relation to railways as well, but we need a willing partner. We need a UK Government that is prepared to work with us, rather than believing that the way to deal with the future of the United Kingdom is always to be taking powers away from devolved levels, and always thinking that they know best.”