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Friday, January 19, 2024

Campaigners repeat calls for station improvements

* Ruabon rail station.

Campaigners for improvements at Ruabon Station have repeated their calls for the UK Government to step up with funding. 

The Welsh Labour Government wants lifts installed at Ruabon to help people with mobility issues, families with young children and commuters carrying heavy luggage move between platforms, but they say the UK Government refuses to contribute to the costs – even though the work comes under Westminster’s remit. 

Local Member of the Senedd Ken Skates raised the issue in the Senedd this week and was told the Welsh Government is ‘doing everything we can at our end’. 

Addressing Deputy Minister Lee Waters, who is responsible for transport in Wales, the Clwyd South MS asked: “Will the Minister provide an update on plans to improve Ruabon Station?” 

Mr Waters responded: "Yes. Thank you to Ken Skates, who has been a consistent champion of Ruabon Station. We agree it has great potential, serving a wide area and is the rail gateway to the World Heritage Site at Pontcysyllte. We continue to press the UK Government for funding of the delivery of a new access-for-all bridge at the station.” 

While transport is devolved to Wales, responsibility for station infrastructure remains with the UK Government. Since devolution, Wales has received less than 2% of the £100bn+ the UK Government has spent on improvements – despite having 5% of the population and 11% of the track miles. 

Coupled with the lack of consequential funding to Wales despite the billions spent in England on HS2, the lack of investment from Westminster has been dubbed ‘The Great Welsh Train Robbery’. 

Mr Skates said campaigners for the improvements at Ruabon were left disappointed once again when, in November, the UK Government announced funding for other Welsh stations. 

Responding to the Deputy Minister this week, he continued: “As you know, the Welsh Government has worked incredibly hard to try to get the improvements necessary at Ruabon Station. But back in November, there was the announcement of six stations in Wales that will receive upgrades, and Ruabon was not amongst them. 

“Could you identify the reasons why you believe Ruabon Station has not yet benefited from the upgrades that so many passengers require of the station? Is it a problem with Network Rail or UK Government? Because I do understand that Transport for Wales has been pretty consistent in supporting the necessary works.” 

Mr Waters said: “I can confirm that Ruabon Station is one of our top priorities for delivery in Wales through the UK Government's Access for All scheme. Transport for Wales are working closely with Network Rail on that, and a final outline design is due at the end of March. So, I think we're doing everything we can at our end. 

“A new accessible bridge at Ruabon would make a significant difference there, but we can only take it forward if the UK Government funds it. Rail is not devolved to Wales, it is a UK responsibility, and I'm bound to ask what are all those Tory MPs in north Wales doing if they can't deliver funding for a modest investment like this.” 

Welsh Ministers had previously asked the UK Department for Transport to urgently prioritise work at Ruabon – with First Minister Mark Drakeford a keen supporter of the plans. 

But the final say will come down to the UK Government.

The Welsh Government’s first bid for funding was a replacement bridge with lifts, and the second for a reduced cost alternative which would see lifts fitted to the existing footbridge. Both were rejected. 

Mr Skates and Ruabon councillor Dana Davies have worked alongside the Friends of Ruabon for years to campaign for improved access at the station. In 2017, former Clwyd South MP Susan Elan Jones presented a petition to Parliament calling for action from the UK Government. 

In a further attempt to incentivise the UK Government to invest in Welsh stations, including Ruabon, the Welsh Government even offered to match-fund vital upgrades. 

Cllr Davies said: “It’s well documented that the Welsh Government has previously put money on the table for this long-awaited work, even though it’s not a devolved area. The Friends of Ruabon – and many other local people – have been frustrated and extremely disappointed by the lack of progress and numerous false dawns. 

“Some years ago, when the Welsh Government first committed to funding half of the project, we celebrated – we thought it was a done deal. We didn’t think there was any way the UK Government would refuse to fund half the cost of a project it should be paying for in full.”

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