Wales politics

GWR boss out of touch with its problems, says Labour MP

Mark Hopwood
Image caption Mark Hopwood has been GWR's managing director since 2008

A rail company boss is "out of touch" with some of the problems faced by his firm, a Welsh Labour MP has claimed.

Stephen Doughty said Great Western Railway managing director Mark Hopwood had been "unwilling" to "get a grip on a litany of failures" in recent years.

GWR said its performance improved by more than 10% in the past six months.

Later, AMs backed Welsh ministers' call for more powers and funding over rail to be devolved to "deliver the railway the people of Wales deserve".

Cardiff South and Penarth MP Mr Doughty led a Westminster Hall debate on GWR's performance on Tuesday in which MPs criticised delays, overcrowding and ticket costs.

Train cancellations have more than doubled for some weekend and bank holiday services between Wales and England, figures have shown.

Mr Doughty said there had been "substantial problems" on the network over the past few years and that services were "not good enough".

"I'm sorry to say that the managing director of GWR Mark Hopwood appears fairly out of touch on some of the problems that are being faced and unwilling or unable to get a grip on a litany of failures over the last few years," he said.

Recent research shows passenger satisfaction with GWR has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade.

The report by independent transport user watchdog Transport Focus shows only 78% of rail users are satisfied - the lowest since 2007.

There are also twice as many delayed and cancelled trains as almost 10 years ago.

Newport East Labour MP Jessica Morden said she had raised the issues of overcrowding and reliability with Mr Hopwood and that he had been "attentive to these particular problems".

Image copyright GWR
Image caption GWR says its service last year was "not good enough"

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth said: "Increasingly I'm seeing complaints from people using the network to commute to London, Chippenham, Bath etc.

"This feeling of who is responsible is upsetting people."

A Great Western Railway spokesman said: "Mr Doughty is right that performance last year was not good enough. Our customers have every right to be frustrated and we're really sorry to anyone affected.

"As a result, we worked with our partners across the industry to put a performance improvement plan in place.

"While there is still more to do, this has seen us move from delivering 72% of our trains between South Wales and Paddington on time six months ago (June 2018)  to over 90% today (Dec/Jan 2019)."

'South-east bias'

Later, on Tuesday evening, assembly members backed the Welsh Government's submission to Keith Williams's review of the rail industry ordered by UK ministers last autumn.

Welsh Government Transport Minister Ken Skates, who will meet Mr Williams next week, said the current rail funding system was "broken".

"The model that's been adopted for infrastructure across Britain for many, many years has been biased towards the more intensely urbanised areas of the country and they, generally, lie in the south-east of England," said Mr Skates.

Calling for the "rail devolution settlement" to be brought "into the twenty-first century" he said Welsh ministers should be given "the powers and the funding we need to deliver the railway the people of Wales deserve".

But Conservative AM Russell George accused the minister of "rhetoric", when in reality UK ministers were "investing record amounts in Wales' railway infrastructure" including £5.7bn in "brand new InterCity express trains, which will cut journey times from south Wales to London by 15 minutes".

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