South East Wales

First Minister Carwyn Jones criticises rail works timing

Severn Tunnel
Image caption The Severn Tunnel will be closed to trains in and out of south Wales for the Rugby League World Cup and Womex weekend

The first minister has criticised Network Rail over the closure of the Severn Tunnel during two major events in Cardiff.

The tunnel will close for maintenance work on the same weekend as the opening ceremony for the Rugby League World Cup, and the Womex music festival.

Speaking to BBC's Sunday Politics Wales programme, Carwyn Jones said Network Rail had not consulted the Welsh government over the closure.

Network Rail said it was vital work.

But Mr Jones said: "They've got form on this. It's an important point here - when we've got events in Cardiff, why do maintenance work on the Severn Tunnel when those events are taking place?

"If there were events taking place every single week in the Millennium Centre, the Millennium Stadium or the [Cardiff] City Stadium, you might say 'okay, there are some weekends when that's inevitable' but for some reason they choose weekends when there are big events taking place in Cardiff."

The Severn Tunnel - which runs under the River Severn on the south Wales-London mainline - will be closed for maintenance on the weekend of 26-27 October - the same weekend as the Rugby League World Cup opening ceremony at the Millennium Stadium and Womex world music festival at the Millennium Centre.

Mr Jones believes the closures will cause travel problems, having a negative impact on the world-wide image of Wales.

He said a similar closure in 1999 caused problems for fans travelling to and from the Wales v England rugby international at Wembley Stadium in London.

'Missed opportunity'

Mr Jones added that he recognised the need for maintenance and regretted that an alternative rail route was not considered when the second Severn bridge was built.

"The big problem is of course that a rail deck wasn't put on the Severn Bridge in 1993 - other countries would have done that - and we wouldn't have these problems with the Severn Tunnel," said the first minister.

"Yes it needs maintenance. It's a very wet tunnel [I know] having been through there in a cab of a 125 [train], but let's do it when there's not a big game on in Cardiff."

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Media captionSpeaking to BBC's Sunday Politics Wales programme, Mr Jones said Network Rail had not consulted the Welsh government over the closure

In a statement Network Rail told Sunday Politics Wales: "There is never a good time to do work on the Severn Tunnel and we thoroughly investigated the Welsh government's request.

"In this instance, this six-week works package was planned two years in advance and had already been put back a week to accommodate the one-day cricket match between England and Australia in September.

"This vital project cannot be put back any further and to cancel it would have a negative impact on services from south Wales to London."

Network Rail added it had assured the organisers of the 2015 Rugby Union World Cup that it would not schedule any disruptive work during the period the tournament was on at the Millennium Stadium.

Sunday Politics Wales is on BBC One Wales at 11:00 BST on Sunday, 20 October.

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