Jessica speaking in the debate
Jessica speaking in the debate

Today there was a debate in Parliament about GWR. I raised the concerns of constituents who travel on their trains. Here’s my speech:

“I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for securing this much needed debate on Great Western Railway. It allows me to talk about performance and delay problems in south-east Wales, including cross-border ones, and the service to Cardiff. One of the issues that I receive most correspondence on, in particular now the Severn bridge tolls have gone, is the poor quality of cross-border GWR services between Newport, Severn Tunnel Junction and Bristol.

Over recent years, the railway network in our area of south-east Wales has been plagued by chronic overcrowding and unreliable services, which have simply not adapted to growing demand. It is worth emphasising that over the past two decades, Severn Tunnel Junction alone has experienced a staggering 297% increase in station entries and exits, which will only keep growing. More people are moving to our area to commute to Bristol—we have some of the fastest-rising house prices in the UK—and it is estimated that the station’s catchment area will include more than 65,000 within the next decade.

In the past year, passengers on key commuter services between Bristol and Severn Tunnel Junction have endured regular incidents of short-forming, cancellations and delays, compounded of course by the unprecedented level of engineering works on the network in 2018. Statistics from GWR show that weekday closures were up by 66% on 2017, and weekend and overnight work up by 145%. Clearly, work to repair, modernise and improve the tracks and the service offered to passengers is welcome, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth said, there is little good feeling among passengers that what they are getting is good value for money for the increasing costs of their commutes, especially compared with many other areas in Europe.​

Since 2010, the cost of a season ticket between Newport and Bristol Temple Meads has risen by 38%, and between Newport and Cardiff by an eye-watering 45%. No wonder commuters are feeling fed up. As my hon. Friend said, that is reflected in the most recent Transport Focus rail passenger satisfaction survey, which showed overall satisfaction with GWR services at its lowest level in more than four years. The survey also showed that between 2017 and 2018, passenger satisfaction with GWR’s punctuality and reliability fell by 4%, and passenger satisfaction with levels of crowding fell by 6%.

I have expressed concerns about overcrowding and reliability directly to the managing director of GWR, and he has met constituents. I am grateful that he has been attentive to the problems. He has stated frankly that services were not good enough in 2018 and that customers had every right to feel frustrated. He assures me that we can expect some tangible improvements this year, given that the programme of training for drivers on new or improved rolling stock is nearing completion, and given progress on the switch to a newer fleet of local trains.

Over the next few months, however, GWR is still due to be working with a transitioning fleet of trains, which limits flexibility and has the potential to lead to delays. It is therefore important for the operator to redouble its efforts to ensure that any disruption to passengers is minimised. Communication with passengers is key—it is key for people to know what is going on over the next few months.

Locally, I am pleased that the peak Cardiff to Portsmouth GWR services, which are used by commuters to Bristol boarding at Newport and Severn Tunnel Junction, will be permanently upgraded to five carriages by the end of year. That is long overdue, and the sooner in 2019 that change can be delivered the better. The service has been nicknamed the “Sardine Express”. People have been left on platforms and told to travel in toilets, people have fainted, and people have suffered many other incidents of chronic overcrowding just trying to get to work. I understand that GWR is also working on plans to increase morning and evening peak services between Cardiff and London Paddington. That is much needed, and we need further details soon.

It is important that we see what time savings are possible from the trains and electrified lines once they are in place, although it would be far preferable for us to have a proper electrified line from London to Swansea. The Government’s decision to cancel the full electrification of the main line remains a strategic blunder, and an unforgivable snub to the people of south Wales.

While I am on the subject of where the UK Government have failed our Welsh train lines, I look forward to the Williams rail review addressing UK rail investment in Wales. As many hon. Members have said, despite Network Rail’s routes in Wales accounting for 11% of the route length, 11% of the stations and 20% of the level crossings in England and Wales, since 2011 an average of only about 2% of money spent on network enhancements in England and Wales has been spent in Wales. We should have received far more than that.

To conclude, the promise of improved services in 2019 is welcome, but we will continue to hold GWR and the Government to account on cross-border rail services. My constituents have endured a poor quality of service for far too long. Ultimately, the best way to keep fares ​down and to ensure that services are run in the interests of passengers rather than profit is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth said, to bring our railways back into public ownership.”

You can also read the whole debate via this link:


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