The Welsh Government transport minister has criticised his Westminster counterpart over a claim that the country’s rail network was to benefit from £343m of investment, arguing instead that it was suffering a £2.4bn funding gap.
A Department for Transport (DfT) press release last month stated: ‘Passenger journeys in Wales [are] set to improve thanks to new funding’. However, the only a fraction of the £343m cited represented new cash, with the announcement largely representing a summary of recent central government spending in Wales.
Transport Network did not report the detail of the announcement at the time as it was clear that it was largely a round-up. However, it was widely reported elsewhere as an announcement of significant new funding for the country’s rail network.
Ken Skates, minister for economy, transport and North Wales, has now written to UK transport secretary Grant Shapps, ‘citing significant concerns’ about the announcement.
In the letter Mr Skates broke down the different elements of funding listed by the DfT, setting out how it ‘falls short of fair funding from the UK Government, and why the underinvestment of rail in Wales, together with the fragmented way in which infrastructure is planned, will not achieve the UK Government’s own ambitions’.
He wrote: ‘It appears very little of this funding package is actually new. 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.’
In its announcement last month the Department for Transport had in fact referred to the ‘release’ of £5.8m for ‘work on a new, modern design for Cardiff Central station'.
However, this appears to be part of £58m plan to redevelop the station ‘confirmed’ last summer by the then UK transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, ‘subject to the necessary assurances that the scheme represents value for money’.
Network Rail had announced in 2014 that it was ‘planning the biggest transformation of Cardiff Central station since it was first built in the 1850s’.
Mr Skates also wrote: ‘Some of this announcement does not qualify as investment at all. £76m of the package accounts for cost-overruns on the south Wales mainline electrification programme. This is money that didn’t lead to anything extra for Wales, but merely reflects the poor management of that particular project.
‘Finally, and most importantly, in the context of the many billions of pounds of investment going into the rest of the UK network, this package does nothing to address the significant and ongoing underinvestment in Welsh rail infrastructure.
‘Our research clearly shows that when one takes into account more than £50bn of investment planned for the English rail network over the next decade, a conservative estimate of the underfunding of Welsh railways between 2001 and 2029 is £2.4bn. This figure is even higher if one were to calculate it by the size of the Welsh network relative to the rest of the UK.’