Vital Shropshire rail routes protected by nationalisation move

Vital railway commuter routes through Shropshire have been saved from potential collapse with the nationalisation of railway company Transport for Wales.

The franchise runs some of the county's most important and well-travelled routes from Shrewsbury to Birmingham, Chester, Cardiff, and Manchester, as well as into Mid Wales, at Newtown and Welshpool.

However, it has emerged that the drop in the number of people using the routes since the start of the pandemic had led the Welsh Government to feel it had no option but to step in and take over.

It protects a number of vital commuter routes through the county.

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The decision has however been met with scepticism from local politicians, including Russell George, Conservative Member of the Welsh Parliament for Montgomeryshire, and economy spokesman for his party.

Ken Skates, the Welsh Government Economy Minister, said the move would protect jobs, and make sure that passengers could still use the routes.

He said: “The last few months have been extremely challenging for public transport in Wales and across the UK.

Transfer

“Covid has significantly impacted passenger revenues and the Welsh Government has had to step in with significant support to stabilise the network and keep it running.

“We have decided to transfer day-to-day rail services to a new publicly-owned subsidiary of Transport for Wales.”

Mr George said he was concerned at the potential cost of the move to the taxpayer.

He said: “Before making this decision, Welsh Labour-led Government ministers should have consulted the Welsh Parliament on the list of failings facing the industry pre-Covid especially the lack of outdated train stock – as well as, crucially, how much this decision is going to cost the Welsh taxpayer.”

He added: "Given the track record of the Welsh Labour-led Government, its decision to take control of our vital train industry has not filled me with any hope."

Transport for Wales has been run for the past two years by the private firm KeolisAmey, which is a joint venture between French transport giant Keolis and Amey. The company replaced Arriva Trains Wales as the provider.

Unions welcome decision to nationalise railways

Unions have welcomed the decision by the Welsh Government to nationalise its railways.

The country’s transport minister Ken Skates said bringing day-to-day rail services for its Wales and Borders franchise under public control would help secure the future of passenger services and protect jobs. Private firm KeolisAmey, a joint venture between French transport giant Keolis and Amey, has run the franchise in Wales for just two years after taking it over from Arriva Trains Wales.

It was awarded the contract in 2018 by the Welsh Government’s wholly-owned transport company Transport for Wales (TfW), of which a new publicly owned subsidiary will now take direct control of services in February next year.

Wales’s largest rail union the RMT welcomed the move and demanded the UK Government now give Wales the ability to permanently retain the rail service in the public sector. Powers over rail passenger services are not fully devolved to Wales, and UK law currently prevents it from permanently retaining the service in public ownership.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “There is huge public support for public ownership because privatisation and profiteering has never been an efficient way to provide value for money, and this is even more the case when extra funding has been needed during the coronavirus pandemic.

“So as well as supporting this decision we are calling on the UK government to give the Welsh Government the necessary powers and support to ensure the railways in Wales have a safe, secure and sustainable future in public ownership.”

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “This is a welcome and positive step from the Welsh Government, which will put our railways back in public hands and again shows the abject failure of privatisation.”

James Price, chief executive at TfW, said: “KeolisAmey have made a significant contribution to transport in Wales over the past two years and I’ve welcomed their collaborative approach to securing this agreement, which has allowed us to achieve a positive way forward for the Wales and Borders contract.

“There is no doubt that there will be difficult decisions in the future as we adapt to the realities of a post-Covid era, but this agreement will give us a stable base from which to build back better.”

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