As we approach the end of the current Wales and Borders franchise and take forward our plans for the next franchise and Metro, Wales has a once in a generation opportunity to build a world class transport system that can support the transformation of our economy and our communities. Over the current franchise period annual passenger journeys on the Welsh rail network have grown from 18 million to 29 million and these numbers are forecast to grow a further 74 per cent by 2030. We need a railway that can deal with that growth and help support jobs and investment in communities such as the Vale of Glamorgan,
The Welsh Labour Government is clear that people want a rail network that genuinely embodies the principles of cooperation, fairness and value that underpins the other public services they cherish – like the NHS. That is why we are working hard to develop a rail model for the Wales and Borders network from October 2018 that prioritises service over profit, drives up standards and improves the passenger experience. At the same time it will ensure any additional funds are spent exclusively here in Wales.
That task isn’t easy as many of the powers in this area have still not been fully devolved to Wales, as is the case in other parts of the UK. The 1993 Railways Act prevents public sector bodies from coming forward and bidding directly for the franchise. As a Welsh Labour Government we have lobbied the UK Government for the greater devolution of transport powers, for instance to deliver a change to legislation to allow public sector bodies to act as franchisees and place us on a similar footing to Scotland.
The UK Government have continued to oppose this. However, these restraints aren’t stopping us from acting creatively. We have created Transport for Wales as a not for profit company initially tasked with designing and letting the next franchise and Metro. Once the franchise has been let we expect Transport for Wales to then oversee the management and join up of services including items such as marketing and integrated ticketing. Over time our aspiration is to secure the necessary powers to enable Transport for Wales to take on a wider range of transport functions similar in nature to that Transport for London manage the public transport network in London.
There will be mechanisms in the new approach that will operate similar to a concession, to ensure that excess profit is reinvested back into the transport system here in Wales, improving quality and driving down costs for the passenger. Our plan is that Transport for Wales will only let those contracts that it has to on a commercial basis. Where they do, the profits from those services will be at a capped margin with excess profits reinvested back into the wider transport system.
We hope to see many more services, such as ticketing, marketing, station management and car parking operating in new and innovative ways under that new approach. That model, which is used by Transport for London, will allow the flexibility to incorporate further devolved powers as they come. This agenda brings with it undoubted challenges but also fantastic opportunities to deliver on our wider aspirations for a bigger better multimodal integrated network serving the needs of public transport passengers, walkers and cyclists all over Wales.
In recent weeks we have seen what happens when railway investment is controlled from London. The cancellation of electrification plans to Swansea reinforces the need for the Welsh Government to take even greater control of our railway network. Left to the UK Government, the Welsh railway network would continue to be underfunded. In keeping with our social partnership approach here in Wales, the views of the trade unions have been sought throughout both the process of franchise renewal and in taking forward the Metro and this will continue over the coming months.