First Minister Grilled By Leanne Wood Over Rail Services in Wales

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Plaid Cymru Leader Leanne Wood has extracted a guarantee from the First Minister that train services will improve in Wales under the next train franchise.

The Assembly Member for the Rhondda urged a note of caution however after the promise failed to come with a specific time frame of when the improvements would be made or that additional rolling stock would be provided.

The exchange occurred during First Minister’s questions in plenary on the day that Ms Wood herself was subject to a delayed train service during her commute from the Rhondda to Cardiff Bay.

During her quizzing of the First Minister, she said for many workers in south Wales it was “touch and go” whether they made it to work due to overcrowding and an unreliable service.

“It is a touch and go situation for many workers,” said Ms Wood “and I know this because I face the same regular delays as everyone else who uses the service. We never know when there will be delays or cancellations.

“In fact, there was a delay today on the train prior to mine, it’s an almost daily occurrence. People feel like they aren’t getting value for money. But more importantly, the trains can’t be relied on.

“For years, Arriva has tried to make the service work by pushing the current trains to perform to their max, and those trains are old. It looks to us who use the service as though it’s at breaking point.”

She added: “My predecessor as Plaid Cymru Leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, was a strong critic of the current rail franchise contract for Wales.

“He said the way it had been drawn up, by an agency of the UK Government, had led to ‘a decade of overcrowding.’

“And his verdict still stands today. On Friday, the Welsh Affairs Committee said that new trains would be needed.

“They described the 2003 contract as a huge mistake. Commuters won’t put up with another poorly negotiated franchise. Your government will be responsible for the next franchise.

“We know that planning is underway. But you have yet to make clear to this Assembly what rolling stock will be provided, and I’m talking quantity as well as quality here.

“We’ve not been told if new trains or carriages have been ordered, and whether they will be new trains or second / third hand. Will you tell us today what trains will be available for the next franchise?

“And will you give a cast-iron guarantee that the mistakes of the past contract will not be repeated?”

During his reply, the First Minister said: “She asks a fair question ‘will the service be better?’ The answer I give is ‘yes.’ I’ve said that and I’m sure she will hold me to account on that over the years.”

Afterwards, Leanne said: “On the one hand it is good we have got something to hold the Labour Government to in terms of improving rail services under the next rail franchise. But on the other, there is a lack of detail of when it will happen and how many extra carriages will be provided.

“I fear that Labour Ministers are placing all their eggs in the South Wales metro basket which will not be delivered on for years in the best case scenario.

“Beleaguered commuters of Wales need, and deserve, improvements in rail services and their patience is fast wearing thin. They are not prepared to wait for year and, as a rail commuter myself, I cannot blame them.”

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