Watch: Plaid Cymru MS challenges Welsh Gov over ‘overcrowded’ and ‘unsafe’ trains
The Welsh Government needs to be honest about the fact that some rail services in Wales are unsafe, according to a Plaid Cymru Senedd member.
The pro-independence party’s transport spokesperson Delyth Jewell MS challenged Deputy Minister for Transport, Lee Waters, on the issue, asking whether he agreed with Transport for Wales’ CEO that trains in Wales were “fundamentally safe”.
She shared the experiences of members of the public with the minister.
They included descriptions of “crammed carriages”; “nobody wearing masks”; “people crammed like sardines”; “impossible to ensure covid safety”; “like a cattle cart and little mask wearing”; “90% not wearing masks on the Rhymney line”; “windows shut with no ventilation”.
Waters suggested that trains in Wales were “fundamentally safe” but acknowledged that overcrowding posed challenges.
But Jewell argues that pictures of crammed rail services are incontrovertible evidence that conditions on the trains do not meet the Welsh Government’s own Covid safety guidelines.
Transport for Wales says its trains are "fundamentally safe". But I've had innumerable reports of unsafe conditions on their trains. I asked the Transport Minister whether or not the trains are in fact 'fundamentally safe'. The answer? Yes and no… pic.twitter.com/vHBB60acCT
— Delyth Jewell AS / MS (@DelythJewellAM) December 8, 2021
The Welsh Government guidelines state that the “key elements” of lowering covid risk include:
- Keeping distance from other people;
- Avoiding crowded spaces;
- Good ventilation when in close proximity to others;
- Wearing face coverings.
Jewell says it is obvious that conditions on some services make it impossible for these guidelines to be upheld.
But Deputy Minister told the Senedd “fundamentally, the trains are safe, given the cleaning regimes put in place, and given all the other things that Transport for Wales are doing to follow the guidelines”.
‘Inability to enforce mask wearing’
Responding to the Deputy Minister’s claim, Delyth Jewell, who is a Member of the Senedd for South Wales East said: “The Welsh Government’s guidelines state that people should keep their distance in public, avoid crowded spaces, as well as ensure they’re in a place with good ventilation and where people wear masks– conditions that are impossible to adhere to on many rail services because of overcrowding and an inability to enforce mask wearing.
“Telling people that trains services are ‘fundamentally safe’ when they cannot guarantee against risk of transmission from overcrowding means people, some of whom may be vulnerable, will be exposing themselves to risk on the false premise that no such risk exists.
“It is wholly illogical for the Welsh Government to claim on one hand that Covid Passes are necessary to keep people safe in large venues, even ones with good ventilation and social distancing, while claiming on the other it’s completely safe for anyone to mingle on a cramped train that has zero social distancing, zero ventilation and zero guarantee that other passengers aren’t infected.
“I understand the difficulties TfW face in terms of making services safe, however, it is simply wrong to give people false assurances about their safety, so they should clarify as soon as possible that there are services where they cannot guarantee safety, and if possible, give details about which services are likely to be too busy to conform with the government’s covid safety guidelines so that people can make informed decisions regarding risk.”
Lee Waters, the Deputy Minister for Climate Change, said: “I think the full quote, to give him fairness, was to acknowledge that there were considerable challenges of overcrowding, and some passengers were refusing to wear masks despite the very clear guidelines, but fundamentally, the trains are safe, given the cleaning regimes put in place, and given all the other things that Transport for Wales are doing to follow the guidelines. They’re making extraordinary efforts, but there is no doubt that there are challenges, and there are a number of reasons for that.
“You quoted the issue of the rugby matches that were held by the Welsh Rugby Union late in the evening when they knew full well that there would be limited train services following the game, which would create, clearly, a pressure on the system.
“There are also other problems hitting the rail industry at the moment, where trains are being cancelled and carriages being damaged because of the storms and because of the weather.
“In fact, on the train I caught up to Glasgow, one was taken out of service because it hit a pheasant on the line. Now, that is not TfW’s fault. There’s also a challenge around staff absences because of self-isolation, so there’s no doubt that the public transport system is under great pressure at the moment.
“The issue of mask wearing is ultimately one of personal responsibility. There are people claiming to be exempt from mask wearing when, clearly, that is not the case. But it is almost impossible to prove that.
“We have, working with British Transport Police, measures in place to enforce mask wearing, and a number of people have been removed from services when challenged and not able to provide a valid excuse.
“I think there are a confluence of conditions all converging to make things very challenging, but public transport remains a safe mode of transport. But there’s no doubt that, sometimes in the day, services are crowded.”