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    28 June, 2006

    Rail debate

    As I mentioned yesterday, we debated the Rail Committee report yesterday. For my speech, click below.

    Leighton Andrews: I will start by thanking the clerk of the committee and the other committee members for their work on the report. We took a lot of evidence and heard from a lot of witnesses, and I have learned rather more about trains in the last three months than I ever wanted to know. One of the things that I said at the outset, when the committee started meeting, was that I did not think that it was advisable or sensible for us to try to decide priorities for the rail service in Wales by committee. We have come up with a list of sensible proposals, but they must be read against the significant amount of investment that is already being made in the infrastructure and in passenger services. We received expert evidence on that from a number of individuals, including, from my region, the south-east Wales transport association, and from Professor Stuart Cole, who is Wales’s leading expert on this.

    The amount of investment that is going into the current franchise is significant: £140 million. I believe that—according to an answer that the Minister gave me to a recent written question—that is something like 57 per cent of Arriva’s revenues. That tells you to how large an extent Arriva is substantially publicly funded. On top of that, the Welsh Assembly Government has also made significant investment, above the franchise agreement, in a number of other areas, in rolling stock and in safety on trains through investment in additional police community support officers for the British Transport Police. Therefore, a significant amount of investment is already going in.

    It is fair to say that Arriva Trains is not popular among commuters on Valley lines. It is not popular with many of my constituents—my postbag and my e-mail inbox have been testimony to that, certainly in recent months. It is fair to Arriva on one point to say that, based on the figures that I have seen, there was an improvement in its performance during the course of this year, though there have been significant days when that performance has again fallen down. That is not entirely its fault, as it is sometimes due to issues caused by Network Rail. We had the slightly extraordinary matter of the managing director of Arriva Trains being replaced during the course of the inquiry in which we were engaged. I put on the record that Graeme Bunker, with whom I dealt on a number of occasions, not only in private meetings, but with whom I travelled on the Treherbert line, was always courteous and co-operative and tried to respond to my questions. I do not say that he was always able to answer them, or give me the answers that I or my constituents necessarily wanted, but he always dealt with them courteously. I look forward to my meeting with the new managing director, which is currently being arranged. I hope that he understands that he operates in a clear political and democratic context in operating the franchise in Wales, and that there will be a demand for significant accountability to the National Assembly and to the Minister.

    I have raised this issue with the Minister at the Enterprise, Innovation and Networks Committee, as we are now to call it, on a few occasions, as I did on the previous Economic Development and Transport Committee. The specific recommendations in the report for the Valley lines, in terms of the need to invest in the frequency of services, are important. Equally important, however, are those things that are already in place, such as the need for additional investment in rolling stock and the commitment to improving platforms on the Treherbert line, so that six-coach trains can be utilised. Those are things that my constituents want to see, because the regular series of complaints that I get are about trains stopping at Porth and not continuing to their destination at Treherbert in order to make time. Complaints are about the quality of the rolling stock and the ability of people to get seats and how they are often crammed into those trains. They also make some of the complaints that other Members have mentioned this afternoon, including how easy it is for people—particularly disabled people and those with young children—to access trains and platforms. I hope that the Minister will hold Arriva to account, that he will look closely at the franchise, and that he will keep it under review in the run-up to the five-year review period.

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    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

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