Questions have been raised this week following concerns that north Wales could lose out as a result of a potential rearrangement of the rail routes to and from England which are operated under the Wales and Borders franchise.
The franchise is due to be renewed in 2018 and there is all-party agreement in Wales that responsibility for its operation should be transferred from the UK Government to the Welsh Government. This would allow the Welsh Government to seek to improve on the current arrangements which have no provision for turning growth in passenger numbers into more trains and a greater number of carriages.
In meetings over recent months Aled has been supporting the efforts of local authorities and the North Wales Economic Ambition Board to ensure that connections between north Wales and England are improved and that where necessary new routes can be introduced following investment in such projects as the Halton Curve.
The assumption had been made that routes within the new franchise would be the same as those currently included, but it would appear that Tory Welsh Office Ministers are now more concerned about the interests of English passengers along the route. Earlier this month a written question on the rail franchise sale was submitted to the Secretary of State for Wales by the MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham. In his written response on behalf of the SoS, Alun Cairns wrote: “We have an agreement in principle with the Welsh Government that executive franchising functions will be transferred to Welsh Ministers to enable them to lead on the procurement, management and enforcement of the next Wales and Borders franchise. To ensure proper accountability for passengers in England, it is expected that services primarily serving English markets will be remapped into other Department for Transport franchises and we will consult on specific proposals in due course.
My officials, along with those from the Department for Transport, are working closely with the Welsh Government to reach final agreement on these matters to ensure that the interests of rail passengers on both sides of the border are fully protected”.
This answer seems to indicate that routes are going to be removed from the franchise before it is renewed in 2018 and this decision could seriously jeopardise the appeal of the new franchise for future bidders.
I shall continue to press the Welsh Government to ensure that routes between north Wales and Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham are included within the new franchise so that direct connections are maintained and the valuable routes with England are protected.