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Wales

Integration not isolation

The franchised train operators in Wales are all well-known names in the business: First Great Western, Wales and West owned by Prism and Virgin's West Coast trains being the main ones. The criticisms of passenger services in Wales are much the same as the rest of Britain, focussing on standards of service, high fares, and a lack of new rolling stock.

Severn tunnel trouble

One of the biggest issues in Wales is the poor state of the Severn Tunnel -part of the Cardiff to London mainline. Mr Brunel could surely not have imagined that his tunnel would still be a vital link in the transport infrastructure 130 years after its completion.

It is showing its age, and frequent repair work often means long delays and cancellations. There is a gleaming new road bridge right overhead - but the failure to put a rail line on the new bridge is a glaring example of Britain's lack of an integrated transport system.

The Intercity 125 trains on the Paddington run are well over 20 years old. There has been no electrification programme and the lack of investment on track and signalling means that at no place in Wales are trains able to travel at more than 100 mph. As a result there is no real cost or time advantage over driving from Cardiff to London.

New link between north and south

All the main transport links in Wales are east/west rather than north/south. The old adage "all roads lead to London" is also true of the main rail networks. Post-devolution there are moves to try and integrate Wales as a nation. As the new seat of government, Cardiff has become more important but it is a four to five drive from Bangor in north Wales, five and a half hours by train going via Crewe. Next year, journey times should be slashed by the introduction of the first direct north/south link.

There are also several narrow gauge railways in north Wales leftover from the slate industry there. A new line in being constructed from Porthmadog to Caernarfon, funded by Lottery cash. Work is expected to start early next year but planning process has become bogged down over environmental and farming concerns, providing an example of the problems that attempts to open new railways can face.

BBC Wales will carry special Track Record reports on Wales Today, Newyddion, Radio Wales and Radio Cymru. The programmes will look at whether cheap and convenient rail travel within Wales - and to the outside world - can ever be achieved.