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£80million investment given to overhaul South Wales rail services

AROUND £80 million has been pledged by the UK Government to overhaul Cardiff Central rail station and to also build a new station on the outskirts of Swansea.

Longer platforms and better access will be created at Cardiff’s busiest station as part of a £58 million commitment.

And a new timetable being introduced in December will reduce Cardiff to London journey times by up to 14 minutes.

UK ministers also said that plans for a West Wales parkway station at Felindre, Swansea, had moved forward.

Rail operator Transport for Wales would run services to the £20 million station but the Welsh Government said it should be part of a wider tranport investment for the region.

Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling said passengers in Cardiff deserved a modern, accessible station in the city centre.

“This funding has the potential to deliver just that, ensuring more reliable, comfortable and faster journeys into and out of the capital,” he said.

He said the upgrade was subject to the necessary value for money assurances.

Plans to transform Cardiff Central date back to 2013 and talks between the UK and Welsh Governments have been going on for more than two years.

An indicative figure for the complete redevelopment of the station has been put at £120 million.

Last year, Cardiff Capital Region chiefs committed £40 million in principle towards a station rebuild while the Welsh Government has committed around £40 million although that includes backing for a new bus station at nearby Central Square.

These commitments hinged on investment from Westminster.

By 2023 Cardiff Central is expected to see passengers hit 23 million per year following the electrification of core Valley Lines into the capital.

The Welsh Government said the £58 million commitment was welcome.

A spokeswoman said: “Being six times busier than any other railway station in Wales, Cardiff Central is in desperate need of investment to improve the experience for its users, to enhance its capacity and to future proof it.”

She added that a bus station announcement would be made over the next month.

Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said Cardiff Central was not fit for purpose on international rugby days and for high-profile concerts at the Principality Stadium.

“This funding will allow Cardiff to become an attractive tourist and commuter destination at a crucial time in the city’s regeneration,” he said.

Mr Cairns said the UK Government was “committing to progressing plans for a West Wales Parkway station”.

Supporters of the parkway station say it would cut 14 minutes off a journey between Carmarthen and Cardiff, make West Wales more accessible by rail, help take cars off the road and speed up the development of the adjacent Parc Felindre business park.

Leaders in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire back the parkway proposal, but concerns have been voiced about its potential impacts on Swansea and Neath given that trains would miss out these two heavily-used stations.

Question marks have also been raised about the subsidy required to run services to a new parkway, and whether it would be a genuine transport hub.

But Mr Cairns’ department has insisted the parkway station would not lead to a reduction of existing train services to Swansea and Neath.

An earlier analysis of parkway options by Arup, on behalf of rail operator Transport for Wales, shortlisted Felindre, Llandarcy and Llansamlet as the best three sites.

Each had various strengths and weaknesses, with Felindre – on the Swansea and District Line – having the greatest potential as a strategic park and ride for a wide area.

A separate study by Professor Stuart Cole, from the University of South Wales, said Felindre would unlock “suppressed” rail demand west of Swansea.

He also said a bus interchange should be added at the station because it would not have a rail link to Swansea’s High Street station.

Last month it emerged that traffic on the M4 was growing at a faster rate west of Swansea than around Cardiff and Newport.

The Department for Transport figures showed the biggest increase was at junction 47, Penllergaer, which experienced a 78% rise since 2000.

Thousands of new homes are planned in Penllergaer and nearby communities, and Swansea Council chiefs want the Swansea and District Line to form a new commuter line between the city and Llanelli as part of a new Swansea Bay Metro.

Speaking earlier this year, council leader Rob Stewart said: “A new parkway station should be part of a Swansea Bay Metro network but it cannot be the only thing we get.”

Neath Port Talbot Council leader Rob Jones has said investment should instead be focused on the South Wales Main Line track to enable trains to travel at 125mph between Cardiff and Port Talbot.

The Welsh Government has reiterated that any new parkway station should be part of a wider plan for connectivity across the Swansea Bay region and must not detract from plans to regenerate Swansea and Neath.

“The best way to do this would be through a joined-up plan for a Swansea Bay Metro, with full powers and funding over rail infrastructure devolved to the Welsh Government,” said a Welsh Government spokeswoman.

“The Welsh Government has said that Transport for Wales will provide services to a new Swansea parkway station; that is providing that the UK Government covers any non-recoverable costs.”

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