- By David Dean
- BBC Wales Political Reporter
Wales Railway has been “pretty dark for some time”, admitted the Labor politician in charge.
Lee Waters said the experience of using the nationalized Transport for Wales (TfW) service could be “horrendous” with overcrowding and cancellations.
He said it would improve as work on the South Wales Underground progressed, but suggested it was difficult to get the message across.
The Minister for Transport spoke at a rail industry event in Cardiff on Thursday.
In the speech, he also accused his Westminster counterparts of planning a “controlled decline” of Welsh Railways.
The UK government said the comments were “wide off the mark”.
Mr Waters told the Rail Cymru conference he had been a regular rail user all his life.
“I feel firsthand the frustrations rail travelers have become all too familiar with,” he said.
He said it can be “a little awkward” to mention to other passengers that he is the Minister for Transport.
“Because when your train is cancelled, or replaced by a bus, or overcrowded, you don’t really want to hear about the £1billion Underground that will transform services in Cardiff and the Valleys, or about the £800m investment in brand new trains running on the Rhymney line.
“It’s not very comfortable when a two-car 150 starts at Llanelli, already almost full.
“Of course things will improve. But the marketing is melting with the intensity of the experience.
“You can’t see the photos of overcrowding or the horrific experiences people report without acknowledging that the day-to-day reality faced by many rail passengers in Wales has been pretty grim for some time.”
“It will get better. But it’s not even better, and we should have the humility to admit that.”
Figures show a higher proportion of trains were canceled in Wales last year, despite less traffic than in the year before the pandemic.
In the year to March 2022, 4% of TfW trains were canceled compared to 3% two years earlier, while 67% of trains arrived within a minute of their scheduled time.
Figures, from the Office of Rail Regulation, showed rail passenger journeys in Wales rose sharply from the previous pandemic-hit year – to 17.7million journeys – but were still in decrease of 41% compared to 2019-2020.
While Transport for Wales is owned by the Welsh Government, apart from the Valley Lines, the rest of the Welsh network falls under the purview of UK Ministers in London, via the bosdy Network Rail infrastructure.
Mr Waters claimed Westminster’s future investment plans amounted to a “controlled decline”.
“Not only haven’t they invested in improving our network, they are now planning to make it worse.”
He cited Network Rail’s ‘period of control’ for 2024-2029, which he said ‘indicates increased infrastructure failures and deterioration of assets which will lead to speed restrictions, reduced reliability, more breakdowns of service and stagnant or deteriorating performance”.
He said it would take the rail network 10 or 15 years to recover and did not blame Network Rail as it was “working under different, and very often conflicting, working orders to the rest of the transport system in the Country of Wales”.
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “These comments are far from the truth – we are committed to improving services for rail passengers in Wales, investing a record £2billion in railways. Welsh Iron from April 2019 to March 2024.”
They added that in 2020-21 the Office of Rail and Road said government funding for the railway was £2.04 per passenger-mile in England and £3.85 per passenger-mile in Wales and Scotland.
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