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Welsh M4 commission warms to rail upgrade and road charges


24 July 2020

Better rail services and road traffic demand management such as road charging are among the emerging recommendations of a  Welsh Government-appointed commission looking at traffic pressures on the M4 in southeast Wales.   

The Welsh Government set up the Southeast Wales Transport Commission last year after scrapping the plan for the M4 relief road round the south of Newport. It has been asked to recommend “sustainable” measures and is chaired by Lord Burns, a former Treasury permanent secretary (LTT 14 Oct 19).  

The Commission’s emerging findings report says congestion on the M4 in southeast Wales is “largely a peak hours commuting problem”, with problems exacerbated by the two lane section of the motorway, the frequency of junctions, and the curvature and gradient of the road between junctions 24 and 27. 

The removal of tolls on the Severn Crossings in December 2018 led to traffic increasing by around ten per cent between 2018 and 2019, it says. 

The Commission sees good potential for rail services to offer an attractive alternative for some trips. The four-track section of line between Cardiff and Severn Tunnel Junction currently operates as one pair of tracks for  passenger services and the other pair for freight. 

This limits the capacity of the line, says the Commission, which suggests reconfiguring the tracks so that one pair of tracks is used for new local services and the other are shared by intercity services and freight.  

“With additional stations, a local, stopping service operating on this line could provide a new, local rail ‘backbone’ into which other transport modes could connect. This would support lateral travel needs between Cardiff, Newport and Bristol.” 

The Commission notes ideas for new stations at St Mellons (Cardiff Parkway), Llanwern, Magor, and suggests there is a case for a station in west Newport too.  

Meanwhile, discussing the M4 it says: “We believe some form of charging mechanism is necessary to encourage up-take of public transport and active travel alternatives, and moderate demand for the motorway.”

A charge could pay for subsidised public transport services. “We recognise the difficulty in implementing any charge before new transport alternatives are in place,” says the commission. Options could include road user charging, a workplace parking levy, or other form of parking management. The Commission will consider the review of charging options being undertaken by Derek Turner for the Welsh Government (LTT 23 Mar). 

The Commission floats the idea of building an active travel corridor between Cardiff and Newport.  

It will also consider institutional reforms in its final report, saying there is currently “insufficient integration across key travel modes, particularly rail and bus”. 

Final recommendations will be put to ministers by the end of the year.

The other Commission members are James Davies, Stephen Gifford, Jen Heal, Peter Jones, Elaine Seagriff, Lynn Sloman and Beverly Owen.

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