Labour First Minister has given wrong information about toilet facilities on new trains for the Rhondda.
During a plenary session earlier this year, Leanne Wood AM asked Mark Drakeford AM to provide categoric assurances that the new trains promised for the Valleys Lines and specifically the Treherbert line would have toilet facilities on board.
The question followed representations from people working within the rail industry to Leanne about the promised ‘upgrades’ to the network under the Transport for Wales franchise which is owned by the Labour run Welsh Government.
During a First Minister’s Question session earlier this summer, Leanne said: “As a regular user of the Valleys lines from the Rhondda, I'm one of the many thousands of passengers left dismayed, frustrated, squashed and feeling short-changed on a regular basis.
“Overcrowding has become a major safety issue not just for commuters, but also for staff who bear the brunt of passengers' anger, especially when people are forced to endure cramped conditions.
“On behalf of staff - who I've received representations from - and on behalf of the many people who use the trains every day, I want to know when we can expect to see more rolling stock, new rolling stock, on the Treherbert line? And I also want to know if there's any truth in what was told to me by a member of Transport for Wales staff that new carriages will not feature toilets?”
In reply, Mr Drakeford said: “Well, Llywydd, it is because we recognise the points that the Member has made that the new franchise will provide an extra 285 services across Wales every weekday and on Sundays by December 2023, and an extra 294 services across Wales by December 2019.
“As far as I am aware, the new rolling stock that we are acquiring will, of course, have modern and up-to-date facilities including toilet facilities, but also Wi-Fi and other things that people travelling in a modern railway system have a right to expect.”
Weeks later, Mr Drakeford wrote to Leanne to say that Metro trains - which will run from Treherbert, Merthyr and Aberdare – will not actually feature toilets after all but there will be improved toilet facilities at stations.
In his letter, the First Minister says: “….this will result in a maximum journey time to a Universal Access Toilet of 14 minutes, with 95% of journeys being within 10 minutes.
“Furthermore the last services each day will include provision for a break in service mid-point for passengers to use the facilities should they wish to. This would be advertised and be part of the formal service provision.”
In response to the about-turn, Ms Wood said: “The First Minister has promised one thing on the floor of the Senedd, before having to row back and admit that some new trains in the future will not have toilets on them. Either he was not briefed and does not know some of the basic features of the much trumpeted new trains or he misled me and the people of the Rhondda in the Senedd.
“Many train passengers from the Rhondda and elsewhere will be left wondering how they will manage without a toilet on board in future?
“Some people have medical conditions that mean they need to visit the toilet frequently – how are they expected to cope? This is something that pregnant women, for example, will find difficult.
“It is unreasonable to expect people to get off the train to go to toilet and catch the next service.
“Are people fully aware of the implications of the new train franchise when it comes to a lack of toilet facilities on trains? I suspect most people are not aware and will not be supportive of this when they do become aware.”