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Improvements to keep trains on right track; TRANSPORT: MPs left disappointed that Agency thinks there's a greater need for major investment elsewhere.

Byline: NICK SPEED Political Editor

MAJOR improvements to rail services across Wales over the next decade have been predicted by the Strategic Rail Authority.

But the body set up to oversee the railways left some Welsh MPs disappointed when it said that Wales has less need for investment in infrastructure than other parts of the UK.

The SRA's verdict was questioned by MPs from the North eager to see electrification of lines there and from the South West who want to see faster services to London.

Appearing before the Commons select committee on Welsh Affairs yesterday, the SRA's Chris Austin said real improvements to the country's network would become obvious in the next few years.

Mr Austin, external relations director for the SRA, said he was optimistic that changes for the better would be discernible within three to four years.

"Even in the short term there's a lot happening, " said Mr Austin.

"We are already seeing the benefits of new trains on the North Wales route. And I'm keen to see the same for services on the South Wales route."

He added, "Over the next 10 years, we are committed to a 50pc growth in passenger traffic miles and 80pc in freight tonne miles."

MPs didn't agree with Mr Austin's verdict that there was a greater need for major investment in infrastructure in other parts of the UK.

Gower MP Martin Caton said that slower travelling times to the west of Cardiff because of the track were deterring inward investment.

Vale of Clwyd MP Chris Ruane was joined by his Ynys Mon colleague Albert Owen in questioning why electrification of the North Wales line had not gone ahead to integrate that part of the network with the West Coast mainline.

Earlier the National Express group operating services between the North and South was questioned on the standard of the stock it uses.

Mr Ruane said it was impossible for people to work effectively on the services because of a lack of tables.

With journey times of three and a half hours each way, many people going to Cardiff on business from the North were finding that they were wasting whole working days.

Managing director Chris Gibb was not able to give any firm commitment to addressing those complaints but indicated that one option might be to add a carriage with table accommodation to certain services.

Malcolm Pheasey, also of National Express - among the bidders for the new Wales and borders franchise - said his company was looking to invest pounds 25m in new trains.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 21, 2001
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