Wales faces £1.7 billion rail cut as £56 billion is spent on English high-speed rail: we deserve better You could buy many things with £1.7 billion. Swansea City’s entire football squad could be bought fifteen times over. You could buy 500,000 jobseeker’s allowances for a year. You could revolutionise South Wales’s rail network. Or you could build a measly 4 miles of track for the government’s HS2 project. This is important because last week Network Rail announced that Wales would receive £1 billion less than our fair share of investment in the next 5 years. This follows the government’s failure to fulfil their £700 million pledge to electrify the railways as far as Swansea.
Wales has 6 per cent of the UK’s rail-track and 5 percent of the population. This should mean that we receive between £2.4 billion and £2.9 billion of the £48 billion budget that the government allocate to Network Rail. Instead we have been short-changed in that plan by over £1 billion, and the money is being spent on English infrastructure projects. HS2 in England will cost £56 billion and KPMG research has shown that this will cost South Wales 20,000 jobs. West Wales and the Valleys are not only the poorest region in the UK, but in North-Western Europe. If our Government in Westminster is serious about post Brexit opportunities, they could begin by investing in the infrastructure and connectivity which the Welsh economy badly needs.
Instead the government have consistently under-funded Welsh infrastructure. First they broke their £700 million promise to rail electrification, and now Network Rail’s five year plan enormously short-change us once again.
This will only increase the damage already caused Brexit – estimated at a 10 per cent drop in economic growth in Wales. At this vulnerable point in the UK’s poorest region the government should be investing in Wales, not chronically underfunding our infrastructure. We need strategic investment in our railways to invigorate the Welsh economy and mitigate the disastrous effects of Brexit.
The best place to start would be for the government to honour their electrification pledge by backing strategic proposals for the improvement of the railways in the Swansea Bay area.
Rail electrification should be introduced alongside the straightening of the main rail line to reduce journey times between Cardiff and Swansea by half an hour, and a Swansea Bay Metro system to connect up the region. These proposals have been developed by Professor Mark Barry.
Increased connectivity with the rest of the UK will invigorate businesses and the economy across South Wales by connecting the region to the rest of the UK. Investment will dovetail with the Swansea City Deal, which is already generating more passenger traffic. It provides a perfect opportunity for the government to invest in upgrading rail travel so that South Wales can grow as an investment hub.
Commuter journey times will be cut by half an hour from Cardiff to Swansea by the line straightening. The Metro proposals will also connect the surrounding regions to central Swansea. Football fans, tourists and students will be serviced by new stations at Fabian Way and the Liberty Stadium.
The former Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron recognised the overwhelming business case when he pledged to extend electrification to Swansea. He said it would provide ‘a huge economic boost to an area with neglected infrastructure’. The government broke their pledge because they claimed there was no journey-time saving. However, Professor Barry’s plans reduce journey times and will breathe new economic confidence into South Wales. So the case against investing in electrification now fails its own test.
From Admiral and Tata Steel to Swansea University, I have talked to stakeholders from businesses, councils, universities, MPs, Trade Unions and AMs from across the Swansea Bay City Region and beyond about these proposals. Our calls are gathering momentum because they will be good for people across Wales from businesses and commuters to football fans and students. Wales would be let down by Network Rail’s latest proposals. It is time for the UK government to give us a fair share to boost our economy and give us the prosperity we deserve.
Geraint Davies MP is the Labour and Cooperative Member of Parliament for Swansea West