Posted: Fri 23rd Feb 2024

Transport Secretary Mark Harper hosts talks on £1bn North Wales Rail upgrade

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

UK Government Transport Secretary Mark Harper is hosting talks today on plans for upgrading the rail network in North Wales.

The roundtable will take place in Llandudno with local MPs, councillors and business leaders to chart the course for the North Wales Main Line’s future.

The focus of the discussion is the UK Government’s plan to invest £1 billion in upgrading and electrifying the crucial rail link as part of a broader strategy to enhance UK connectivity and stimulate economic growth.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed the termination of the remaining phases of the High-Speed Rail 2 (HS2), stopping the link between Birmingham and Manchester during a keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference last October.

Despite HS2 not touching Welsh soil, it has been argued that the improvements in the northwest of England would benefit travellers and commuters in North Wales.

Mr Sunak announced that funding for the second leg of HS2 would instead be diverted into hundreds of other projects – including a potential £1 billion for the electrification of the North Wales Mainline between Chester and Holyhead.

The North Wales Main Line, a 126-mile stretch connecting Crewe, Warrington, Wrexham, and Holyhead, stands to see significant improvements in punctuality and reliability.

The latter serves as a key ferry point to Dublin, underpinning the line’s importance for both local commuting and international travel.

Today’s meeting brings together MPs, councillors, and business leaders to delve into the potential regional benefits of the project.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper highlighted the vital role of the North Wales Main Line in the UK’s transport network.

He said: “The North Wales Main Line is a vital transport link, and our billion-pound plan will deliver faster and more reliable rail services for passengers in North Wales and the North West of England.”

“Our plan is made possible by our decision to reallocate every penny of the £36bn saved from HS2 into hundreds of transport projects across the UK. This major upgrade will improve rail journeys, improve connections to jobs and help grow the economy.”

“I look forward to meeting local leaders and businesses today to discuss the benefits this project will bring.”

Despite this seemingly positive news for Wales, the announcement of the £1 billion upgrade was met with scepticism.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething highlighted the lack of detailed planning and questioned whether the £1 billion would be sufficient.

Prof Stewart Cole, from the University of South Wales and a Welsh government adviser on transport, echoed these sentiments.

He pointed out that the £1bn figure might be outdated, suggesting that with construction costs increasing annually, the real cost might be closer to £1.5 billion or more.

He said the £1bn figure “presumably includes signalling and straightening the track”.

“However, the figure he used was based on the study in 2015, and construction costs have increased by about 7% per annum, so we’re now really talking about £1.5bn or more,” he said.

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