Posted: Tue 23rd Apr 2024

Ken Skates outlines plans to improve Transport for Wales services in Wrexham and beyond for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area

The new Transport Cabinet Sectary Ken Skates has set out what he thinks is needed to “deliver the sort of services that the people of Wales, particularly people in Wrexham, not just need but deserve”.

In a very tight Welsh Government budget one of the few areas to see an increase was Transport for Wales.

We asked the new Cabinet Secretary for North Wales and Transport Ken Skates MS how he was going to make sure TfW shapes up to that budget award.

Ken Skates said: “There are a number of really important points to make. One is COVID changed the context of funding rail services in an enormous way, the impact that COVID had on rail services was phenomenal.

“We saw rail operators across the UK suffering terribly. TfW has actually recovered passengers better than, certainly than industry standard, and probably better than most other operators in the UK. So the fare box is increasing.

“Longer term aspirations for Transport for Wales, grow out of the problem that we face with funding constraints by increasing the number of passengers and thereby increasing the fare box. We’ll start to see that take place with some gusto from this June when there are timetable changes, more frequent services and additional services coming into being that will drive up the fare box.

“We’re also seeing with the arrival of new trains, a return of passengers to services and also in those areas where there have been some pretty impressive service improvements, for example, on the Wrexham Bidston line. I recognise that service standards were just not good enough on the Wrexham Bidston line.

“So my predecessor Lee Waters was insistent that it had to improve. That’s now happened. Longer term of course we still want to be able to deliver two trains per hour, if we can get the upgrades on the infrastructure between here and Liverpool, we want to see metro style turn up and go services between Wrexham and Liverpool itself rather than have to change.

“So the long term aspirations are still there. What we need to do is create the bridge from now to the point where the farebox has increased to reduce the level of subsidy.

“That’s what TfW are working towards, that bridge period.”

The Cabinet Sectary pointed to external reasons for issues that impact public confidence in TfW: “Often it is outside of TfW’s hands because they’re not responsible for the tracks, or the signalling or the stations that trains operate to and operate on.

“So, unfortunately, the reality is rail infrastructure is being invested in very poorly in these parts of the UK compared to other parts, particularly in the South East of England.”

We asked how Welsh Government was going to force, or get a commitment, for rail infrastructure from Westminster or if it was a case of waiting for a General Election to align politically Wales with Westminster.

Ken Skates did not appear hopeful for new funding commitments in the very short term: “It’s probability it’s the latter because we’re already months away from a General Election that has to take place by January.

“I can’t see funding commitments that we require them made in the short time that is left of this government. So we’ll go to a future government.

“I’m keen to engage with not just current ministers, but future ministers, in pressing the case for infrastructure upgrades, not just to the North Wales mainline, and electrification but also to the Wrexham Bidston line, and the Marches line, Chester station – because unless we can unlock Chester station, we’re not going to go increase services operating through Chester and into Wales or out of Wales.

“We need to have upgrades to the rail line from here right through to Birmingham, and for that matter, right down through to Hereford and beyond. Then we’ll be able to deliver the sort of services that I think people of Wales, particularly people in Wrexham, not just need but deserve.”

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