Wales ‘to nationalise railways tomorrow’ after Covid-19 sends passenger numbers plunging
The Welsh government is poised to nationalise its railways after a fall out on the bailout talks with the current operator, The Telegraph reported today.
Ministers are expected to formally announce the transfer of operations to state-owned Transport for Wales on Thursday morning, the newspaper said citing insiders.
Transport for Wales will take direct control of travel on the country’s 900 miles of railway after passenger numbers plunged as a result of coronavirus.
“I support the Welsh Labour Government extending the not for profit model and now taking full public ownership, as with Airport and re-regulating buses services,” Labour Senedd Member Mick Antoniw said.
“Thatcher’s disastrous privatisation experiment is coming to an end in Wales.”
Trains in Wales have been run since October 2018 by a joint venture between Keolis, a subsidiary of France’s SNCF, and engineering contractor Amey.
While the pair will continue to be responsible for tracks and other rail infrastructure, control of services will be handed back to the Welsh Government.
“Tomorrow, the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates will announce a series of measures to protect services for rail passengers, maintain jobs, and keep momentum on the Metro project, in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” the Welsh Government said.
French-Spanish joint venture KeolisAmey took over the running of the Wales and Borders franchise in 2018.
They promised to eventually replace all trains, at a cost of £800m, as well as spend £738m to electrify the South Wales valleys lines, add more services and launch the new South Wales Metro over the next 15 years.
At the time their arrival seemed to mark an end to the troubled tenure for Arriva Trains Wales, criticised for overcrowding on commuter services.
However, it warned at the time that most of the biggest promised changes will not happen for at least a couple of years.
Last month Wales’ Transport Minister wrote to the UK Government to complain after an “additional” £343m of funding for the nation’s railways turned out to be money spent as far back as 2014.
Ken Skates said that despite the UK Government’s talk of ‘levelling up’, they were underinvesting in Wales and this offer “falls short of fair funding from the UK Government”.
He said that the UK Government had underspent by £2.4bn on Wales’ railways and called for powers over investment in infrastructure enhancements to be transferred to Wales.
“It appears very little of this funding package is actually ‘new’,” Ken Skates said.
“Many projects in the announcement have already previously been announced, the £58m for Cardiff Central station, for example. In fact, some of this package, such as the funding for valleys electrification, dates back to 2014.
“A disparate collection of ad hoc projects across Wales does not constitute an ‘ambitious programme’. Our plan for Metro systems across Wales give us the ability to move towards genuinely integrated public transport systems, but sadly the announcements in this package were made without reference to, or join up with, this overarching vision.”
According to Prof Mark Barry of Cardiff University, Wales’ rail network has been underfunded in terms of enhancements by at least £3Bn since 2001.