Patronage was double that of forecasts for reopened railway line

Turbostars from Greater Anglia have replaced older units on the Ebbw Vale line

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford has made a stinging attack on the Department for Transport’s funding model for rail enhancements, noting that the reopened Ebbw Vale line – which the DfT decided not to fund – is carrying 450% more passengers than DfT modelling predicted.

His comments come in a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson calling for Wales and neighbouring areas of England to receive a fair share of rail funding. The UK Government has resisted calls for Welsh rail infrastructure to be devolved, and Drakeford claimed that since 2010 Wales has received only 2% of Great Britain’s rail enhancement spend despite having 11% of the track miles and 5% of the population.

“Not surprisingly therefore, Wales has the UK’s lowest level of rail ridership and the highest percentage of journeys made by private car,” wrote Drakeford. He said Rail Delivery Group research demonstrated that the DfT’s funding model “consistently overestimates growth for rail journeys connected to London, while underestimating growth elsewhere”.

This system bias undermines confidence in Wales that future decision-making will meet our needs

He added: “This system bias undermines confidence in Wales that future decision-making will meet our needs.”

The DfT, through the Strategic Rail Authority, had intended to contribute to the costs of reopening the Ebbw Vale line, including six new stations. After low passenger forecasts, no UK Government funding was available and the Welsh Government took £48m from its budgets for health and other devolved subject areas to achieve the reopening in 2008, albeit with double track pared back to the minimum for an hourly service.

Passenger usage was double the forecast in the first year, despite the delayed opening of two stations. The service remains hourly because £38m of Welsh Government funding, awarded in 2015, for Network Rail to double track on more of the line proved insufficient. A new study on the works required was due to be published in December but is delayed. KeolisAmey is due to launch half-hourly Ebbw Vale services in May 2021.

Drakeford said his government would be in a position to deliver its plans to transform services in Wales and across the border if the UK Government provided a fair share of the HS2 spend over the next 10 years and a proposed infrastructure spend of 3% of GDP in this parliament.

Some of the plans “are vital to cross-border collaboration, including the Great Western Cities Partnership”, added Drakeford. Welsh transport minister Ken Skates and Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram are writing separately to Johnson about
cross-border rail investment

This article appears in the latest issue of Passenger Transport

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