Welsh Government Set to Nationalise an English Train Service. October 2020
Updated: Aug 30, 2021
In a bold move the Welsh Government has announced that it will nationalise the rail services under its franchise agreement. Ministers have confirmed the takeover from the current operator Keolis/Amey with services to be run by a Welsh publicly owned company Transport for Wales Rail Ltd. Keolis/Amey was awarded the franchise in 2018 but the Covid-19 crisis has seen revenue plummet prompting the Welsh government to inject £65 million to keep services going.
Welsh Deputy Transport Minister Lee Waters said: "The whole business model collapsed in the face of Covid because the revenue was not coming in and Keolis/Amey in effect were not prepared to shoulder their share of the pain." The change is happening under a part of railway law that allows for the creation of operators of last resort and will take place between now and February 2021 to allow the setup of Transport for Wales Rail Ltd.
James Price, Chief Executive of Welsh Government quango Transport for Wales which oversaw the franchise and shared branding with it, said that rolling stock is "on the way" and "in essence is paid for already". "What this allows us to do is to reduce the profit we pay to the private sector massively over time, and make sure that when the revenue comes back, it comes back in to the taxpayer."
Interestingly, the move by the Welsh Government means that a train service which runs mostly in England will be nationalised by a separate devolved government. The Marches Line service from Cardiff to Manchester runs through Herefordshire and Shropshire in the borders. It was devolved to the Welsh Government under an Agency Agreement with the Department for Transport.
Although the franchise system has been suspended in England, it has not led to the full nationalisation of the network. It remains to be seen whether or not the Welsh decision to move to complete nationalisation is in contravention of the Agency Agreement in respect of an English train service.
With Boris Johnson already causing a stir with his threats to overrule the Welsh government’s cancellation of the M4 Relief Road around Newport and with Johnsonian comments such as “we will provide the Vicks Inhaler to the nostrils of the Welsh dragon", we may well be heading for another ding-dong between Cardiff and Westminster. The reinstatement of Offa’s Dyke marking the border between the two nations may yet occur.