Call to double rail spending in Wales after astonishing growth in travel by train
Western Mail: Aug 14 2007
by Martin Shipton
THE body charged with improving public transport in the busiest part of Wales has called for a doubling of its budget after figures showed a huge increase in rail travel.
Between 1996 and 2005, passenger rail journeys in Wales surged by 37% to an astonishing 29.8m – the equivalent of 10 trips a year for every man, woman and child.
Now Sewta – South East Wales Transport Alliance – wants the Welsh Assembly Government to more than double its budget from £40m to £85m a year.
Sewta, a consortium of 10 councils between Bridgend and Monmouthshire, is responsible for devising strategic transport plans for the region it covers and securing funding for improvements from the Assembly Government. Around 70% of Welsh rail journeys take place in Sewta’s area.
Sewta secretary Bob Brierley said, “The big increase in rail travel reflects the fact people are travelling further to work, and that they see rail travel as a realistic option.
“It also reflects the booming economy of Cardiff, with people using the local rail network that is a fortunate legacy of the coal industry.
“At present we get about £36m a year in core funding from the Assembly Government.
“Other income, including some from the European Objective One aid programme, pushes the total up to around £40m.
“We believe that for us to be able to make a real difference, our annual budget should be increased to around £85m.”
Sewta chairman Tom Williams, a Caerphilly Labour councillor, said, “We have regular meetings with Assembly Government officials, where they want us to do this, that and the other.
“We say to them, ‘give us the money, and we’ll do it.’
“It’s true that a lot of money has been ploughed into public transport, but much more is needed if we are to meet the increasing demands of the public.
“Establishing better public transport links is absolutely essential for the economic future of the Valleys.
“And with car parking charges going through the roof in Cardiff, there are likely to be more and more people opting to use the trains in the future.
“At the moment we are doing what we can to increase the frequency of trains running down the Valleys lines into Cardiff, but if the demand is there I would like to see services running every 15 minutes.
“We also want to improve the bus services so they link in better with trains. What we’d like to have is a system where people can jump on a bus to the station just in time to catch a train.
“We also want to improve park- and-ride schemes.”
The long-promised railway line linking Ebbw Vale with Cardiff is now due to open in December, although trains from Ebbw Vale to Newport are not likely to be running until 2014.
In the meantime, every southbound train will be met at the Rogerstone station by a “rail line” bus to take passengers to Newport.
Sewta also plans to increase the frequency of trains between Cardiff and Abergavenny by installing a loop at the latter station which will enable trains to turn round there.
An Assembly Government spokesman said, “The growth in passenger numbers for public transport in Wales has been higher than in the rest of Great Britain.
“This is a real success story for Wales and has been made possible by a record level of investment and commitment from the Assembly Government.
“We are now waiting for each of the regional transport consortia – Sewta, Swwitch, Tracc and Taith – to submit their respective regional transport plans for next year, so that the Minister for Economy and Transport (Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones) can decide his priorities for all modes of public transport across the whole of Wales.”
This year, the total spent on all public transport by the Assembly Government is around £250m.