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Whitehall dismisses plans for further rail devolution to Wales

Central government has rejected plans for further devolution of rail powers and responsibilities to Wales, the Welsh Affairs Committee has today confirmed.

In January, Welsh MPs submitted a request for devolution to the region as it cited an “urgent need” for new trains on the Wales and borders network caused by the “huge failure” to allow for passenger growth after the establishment of a 15-year franchise in 2003, which will be awarded again in 2018.

The Welsh government’s original report said: “Since 2011 only around 1.5% of the rail enhancement expenditure across England and Wales has been made in the Wales Route areas.

“However, this has to be seen in the context of improvements within England, which have direct beneficial impacts on Wales.

“Nonetheless, we welcome the introduction of route scorecards for Network Rail, which should assist in assessing Network Rail’s performance, and could better hold them to account to ensure they deliver on the infrastructure priorities on the Wales route.

“We also recommend that the devolution of rail infrastructure and associated funding and their interaction with the franchising powers are kept under review as a means of improving clarity of responsibility to the public and ensuring that Wales’s transport needs receive appropriate priority.”

But now Whitehall has slammed the door shut on the push towards further devolution in Wales, as the government replied: “Transfer of executive functions in relation to the specification and funding of Network Rail’s operations in Wales was recommended by the Silk Commission.

“This recommendation was considered as part of the St David’s Day process, but there was no political consensus to take it forward. The government does not intend to revisit the issue given those discussions.”

The government did add, however, that the DfT would continue to liaise closely with the Welsh government on the specification and funding of Network Rail’s operations in England and Wales for each Control Period to ensure that Welsh requirements for increased capacity on the network are reflected.

Another key recommendation that was rejected included a request for Welsh rolling stock, which has an average age of 27 years and holds some trains which are 40 years old, to be refurbished and have greater accessibility options added.

“Our policy is that it is for bidders of the next Wales and Borders franchise to propose rolling stock solutions including any attempt to ‘tag’ a new order on to an existing procurement of trains,” central government responded.

It also added that rolling stock was a matter that central government would not interfere with, saying: “The government policy is that rolling stock procurement should, in most cases, be market-led because competition delivers value for money as it gives bidders more choice around the fleet that they wish to operate.”

There were other recommendations from the Welsh Assembly’s January report that central government did agree with.  In response to calls from Wales to remap the franchise map in Wales, the government responded saying: “The Department will continue to work co-operatively with Welsh Government and will continue to explore the feasibility of extending franchise services into Wales where deemed to be beneficial and cost effective.”

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Andrew Gwilt   01/04/2017 at 11:07

Trenitalia, MTR Co, First Group, Abellio or Stagecoach could be the candidates for the Welsh Rail Franchise. Or DB Arriva could extend the franchise to 9-10 years and to order new trains for most parts of Wales.

Pedr Jarvis   04/04/2017 at 14:05

There seem to have been rather more new carriages lately on some of the narrow gauge lines in Wales than on some of the standard gauge branches.

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