Page last updated at 22:54 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

MPs told Severn Tunnel is 'hole'

Severn Tunnel - library photo
The Severn Tunnel, which links Bristol with Cardiff

Rail unions have told Welsh MPs that investment in rail infrastructure is needed to boost staffing and standards.

Giving evidence to the Welsh affairs committee at Westminster, they said the Severn Tunnel was known as "the hole" by rail workers due to track problems.

A leading Aslef official claimed trains travelling through the main line tunnel into Wales had to slow down, signals were worse and tracks were "abysmal".

Network Rail said 150m re-signalling work would improve track on the route.

Representatives from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), the train drivers' union Aslef and the Freight Transport Association (FTA) gave evidence to MPs into cross-border rail services.

Aslef and RMT called for the renationalisation of the railways, claiming a profit-led network had led to a fragmented service and they attacked the government for not regulating fares and company profits.


The train drivers' union said staffing and standards of the service were suffering because there were not enough drivers and there were concerns too many drivers were working without proper training.

When the committee asked about future plans for the Severn tunnel, Aslef district officer Stan Moran described why the tunnel had been given the nickname "the hole".

He said: "Once you get through it from England into Wales, speed must be reduced, the signalling system is worse and the track is abysmal."

One union official told MPs that on the Welsh side of the tunnel: "We're coming into platforms at 15-20 mph when we should be coming in at 60 mph."

The unions told the meeting that if a Severn barrage was built, then they would like a new rail link and one that was above water.

The RMT delegates, assistant general secretary Pat Sikorski and Alex Gordon, of the Council of Executives, said the union was in favour of electrification and high speed lines but said "it won't solve the problems if there isn't a restructuring of the network as a whole".


They also voiced their concern about the future of the freight industry in Wales. One said: "We often concentrate too much on passengers but it is important to get more freight traffic on the railways , that will help achieve carbon goals."

The Freight Transport Association warned that cross border road links were not adequate and called for a better north/south Wales link.

The association's delegate also described the UK's canal system as an under-utilised resource.

The meeting came as Network Rail announced the next phase of a 400m re-signalling scheme launched in 2005.

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said the 150m phase would upgrade rail infrastructure in the Newport area.

She said: "This will result in an increase in linespeeds, improved infrastructure reliability and greater operational flexibility for this route, as seen at Port Talbot East.

'Journey time'

"As seen in the final Wales ten-year rail strategy published today, there are also plans to build a fourth platform and improving the station at Severn Tunnel Junction.

"This will also facilitate the service performance and journey time on the route through the Severn Tunnel.

"The aim is to deliver these schemes as part of the South Wales re-signalling scheme in the next five - seven years."

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