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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hitting the rails

Here in South Wales we know all about problems with trains. We have just spent 10 days cut off from all points east due to maintenance work overrunning. Prior to that key commuter trains from Cardiff to Bridgend and Swansea were axed, whilst mainline trains are often late arriving here.

Yesterday, there was a steam engine running from Swansea to Llanelli. It certainly got people out of their houses to watch, but it also made an important statement about the condition of our railways since privatisation.

This morning's Observer reports that plans by the Conservatives to put things right have hit the rails. It seems that their plans to cut rail journey times and tackle train overcrowding have been thrown into confusion after leaked emails revealed that David Cameron is 'not allowed' to say how his party will pay for them. The paper says that:

The leak is embarrassing coming just days before Cameron was due to launch the transport plan, intended as a centrepiece of the Tory local election campaign. Anger at slow and over-crowded commuter trains affects many marginal seats in the south east of England.

Cameron is due to present rail as a 'greener' answer to transport, shedding his party's image of closeness to the motoring lobby. A copy of his draft speech attached to the memo reveals Cameron was planning to promise that the Tories would not only finish any rail improvements started by Labour but 'explore ways of adding additional capacity improvements' on top. Cameron was to identify trans-Pennine links between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull as well as commuter routes around Birmingham and into the West Country as future priorities.

As you would expect Labour are rubbing their hands in glee at this leak but then their record is hardly covered in glory either. No doubt we will need to re-open this debate when all the manifestos are published for the next General Election, complete with costings.
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