Neath and our valleys communities need to be at the heart of a transport ‘metro’ plan

Yesterday Llanelli AM Lee Waters and I asked the Welsh Government to commission a study for a Swansea Bay region transport system.

Lee as a former director of the transport charity Sustrans has a long standing commitment to public transport. From my own point of view, I have seen at first hand as a constituency AM, the need for much better public transport links in our area. And my report from the Neath Area Economic Forum conference which I discussed with Welsh Government ministers in April, called for the establishment of a Swansea Bay Region Integrated Transport system (SBRITe), an integrated bus and rail network connecting the whole of the Swansea Bay region, reflecting the views of local business and public sector organisations who were at the Forum meeting.

The South Wales Metro is a good plan but it is really a South East Wales Metro and it doesn’t serve our area. We need a radical plan with the potential to link up communities across the Swansea Bay region. With an integrated bus and rail network, people will have better options to live, commute and enjoy the benefits in such a vibrant, geographically diverse area.

This will be a natural partner to the Swansea Bay city deal – which will see more than £1.3 billion invested in business – and will mean that the jobs created as a result of this investment are open to communities across the region. The UK government’s failure to live up to its commitment to electrify the rail line west of Cardiff now creates an obligation to support the creation of a transport network which serves the Swansea Bay region.

Lee and I called for a study for an integrated bus and rail network which would connect all parts of the region from Llanelli in the west through to Neath and beyond.

The First Minister said in the Senedd yesterday “We (Welsh Government) have funded development work on the outline concept of a metro for south-west Wales in this financial year, via the local transport fund. The City and County of Swansea—is co-ordinating this work in partnership with the other local authorities in the south-west and the project is progressing well… There are a number of ways in which you can deliver a metro: some as heavy rail, some as light rail, fast buses and the possibility of dedicated bus lanes. There are any number of ways where a metro system can be delivered and it’s hugely important that any study is able to look at emerging modern technology, particularly in order to facilitate quicker transport options for the public. ”

Today, there is coverage in the press of a draft proposal by Mark Barry of Cardiff University to establish a Swansea Bay Metro. It is an early stage plan but it contains some positive proposals about using existing current rail freight lines and making them available for passenger rail. The draft proposal includes the freight lines from Tairgwaith and the Dulais Valley. It also includes more frequent local rail services from Neath. These should all be explored.

However, the draft proposal also suggests diverting the mainline so that it goes direct from Swansea to Port Talbot, taking Neath off the mainline, to shorten journey times.

Any plan for a regional transport network must keep Neath on the mainline to Cardiff and London. There are other ways of reducing journey times, and we should explore those rather than taking Neath (or indeed other stations) off the mainline – it’s about bringing our communities closer, not cutting them off.

In addition, we also need an integrated bus service as part of a Swansea Bay Region Integrated Transport system, so that it is both rail- and bus-based. There are many parts of Neath constituency where there is no realistic possibility of a rail service, so we need to ensure that a regional transport system includes an integrated bus services, allowing seamless connection to the rail network which would deliver an enhanced bus service for the Amman, Swansea, Dulais and Neath valleys – providing better connection with Neath, Swansea and beyond.

Neath and our valleys communities need to be at the heart of a new regional transport plan.

Lee and I will be convening a round table meeting of experts and bus and rail users to discuss the integrated transport options for our region to ensure region-wide connectivity and I will be making the findings available to anyone who has an interest in better public transport in Neath and the wider Swansea Bay region.