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YesCymru Milford Haven - North-South Rail infrastructure

In recent years, the HS2 high-speed rail project, which is being commissioned by the UK Government, has drawn much criticism and has been dogged by claims of lack of value for money and overspending, after reports emerged that the original cost of the project had ballooned from £36 billion in 2009 to over £107 billion to date.

Billed as the “largest infrastructure project in Europe”, HS2 will “integrate with new lines and upgrades across Britain’s rail system to deliver faster travel to many towns and cities across Britain not directly on the HS2 route, including Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham and Derby”, according to the website. 

Also touted as the “most important economic and social regeneration project in decades”, other locations set to benefit from the project include Edinburgh and Glasgow. 

One country that is not set to benefit from the project however, is Wales. This, in spite of the fact, that Wales is paying towards it. 

This has led to numerous calls, including from Welsh Conservatives leader, Andrew RT Davies, to ensure that Wales receives a Barnett consequential in terms of the HS2 project, which would see around £5bn of funding invested in Welsh railways. 

It is worth noting that both Scotland and Northern Ireland have received a respective Barnet consequential as a result of the HS2 project, however only twelve months ago, the UK Government rejected the Welsh Affairs Committee’s calls to re-classify HS2 as an England-only scheme. 

Yet, no tracks will be laid in Wales as a result of the development, and worrying reports suggests HS2 could even harm Wales’ economy. 

Research carried out by the UK Government estimates that HS2 could cost Cardiff up to £67.95 million per annum in lost revenue. 

However, chronic neglect of our railways is nothing new. It has emerged that despite Wales occupying 11% of UK rail tracks, we have only received 2% worth of UK rail investment since the onset of devolution. 

Wales has also suffered since the Beeching cuts of 1963, which recommended the closure of 189 stations and vital rail links across the country, which has had a devastating impact on north to south travel and investment in North, South and West Wales.  

Welsh Government have showed some momentum of late, to reinvigorate Wales’ railway system. 

Take the South Wales metro for instance which at a cost of £500 million, will focus on developing more effective and environmentally-friendly trains and improving the rail infrastructure along the Core Valleys lines. 

Also, only last year, the Welsh Government announced an interest free loan worth £70 million to Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council to support the reopening of the Ebbw Vale to Newport service. 

However, when compared to the costs of rail investment in Scotland at £16bn and North England and the Midlands at £96bn, the costs expended on improving Wales’ railway networks seems insufficient in terms of the challenges required to reform it. 

Though £5bn would go some way to improving Wales’ railway system, by increasing the number of trains and improving connectivity across the country (including funding the electrification of Wales’ rail tracks), full devolution of the railways is needed.

However, given that such proposals have predictably been voted down by MPs, it is unlikely that Wales’ railway system will be fully devolved any time soon. 

Once again, it is time for the Welsh Government to consider whether independence is our only real opportunity to reform our railways given continued resistance from Westminster.

This is an article written by Maria Pritchard of Yes Milford Haven and published in the Pembrokeshire Herald newspaper on 15.07.2022

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