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Transport for Wales says sorry for ongoing train chaos

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TRANSPORT FOR WALES has apologised to its customers for the breakdown of locomotives which has caused chaos to railway users in Pembrokeshire and beyond.

The apology comes as commuters have been warned that the travel chaos is likely to continue for at least the next three weeks after Transport for Wales (TfW) stated that an ‘unprecedented’ third of the network’s 127 fleet – 37 locomotives – are damaged.

The handover between the previous franchise holders, Arriva Trains Wales, has also been cited as an issue by the Welsh Government and TfW, with a significant number of train cancellations due to the fact that no spares were available when the handover took place, with tooling and spares taken by Arriva.

In last week’s paper, we reported that many services had been cancelled and that some were running with the help of replacement bus services.

The Herald understands buses from Milford Haven have been booked for the next three weeks for some services.

The firm’s director of customer services, Bethan Jelfs, told The Herald: “Customers are affected throughout our network.

“We are really sorry this is impacting on customers and their journeys and day to day lives.

“We are trying to share that pain around and trying to run trains where the need is greatest, but pretty much all of our routes will be affected.”

She added: “There are some replacement road transport provisions in place for customers and that really is regrettable because we’re not able to run the level of service we want.”

Ms Jelfs explained to The Herald: “We are running services as much as we can but some will be short-form, so customers may experience trains busier than usual.”

Services between Cardiff and Carmarthen, Swansea and Fishguard, the Cambrian line between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury and Heart of Wales line from Llanelli to Llandovery are all affected.

The government has vowed to transform the service and operators KeolisAmey has ordered 148 new trains costing about £800m.

The Welsh Conservative leader used First Minister’s questions last week (Nov 20) to secure answers as to what Transport for Wales’ plan of action is for resolving the capacity issue with its stock.

It follows TfW’s full page apology published in Welsh newspapers where they stated customers ‘haven’t received the service that they deserve and expect’.

Despite past promises of a high quality, affordable, and accessible train network in Wales made by Carwyn Jones, Paul Davies AM highlighted that. TfW’s morning commuter train from Chepstow and Caldicot to Newport and Cardiff has been cancelled 16 times in the last 20 weekdays; Blaenau Ffestinog, Betws-y-coed and Llanrwst have had no trains all day on seven of the last 20 weekdays; And the 08.40 train from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury was cancelled on four days last week.

Mr Davies also questioned the transparency of the Welsh Government surrounding the tender specification against which the potential rail operators were to bid in order to win the current contract, as Carwyn Jones has refused to make it public.

Under pressure from Mr Davies, the First Minister conceded that the document will be published, but refused to give any time frame.

Outside the Chamber, he told The Herald: “If the problems of Transport for Wales are serious enough to warrant full page apologies in several newspapers, it surely means the Welsh people are angry and concerned at the state of rail capacity in their country.

“I am certain they will be even angrier after seeing him dodge questions on this today.

“The early failures of TfW are disappointing but hardly surprising. The Welsh Labour Government have built a track record of failing miserably at transport and infrastructure projects over the years, so we should continue to expect such failures.

“Going forward, we need far more transparency and dialogue from the Welsh Government, less deflection and obfuscation. Hopefully, the next First Minister will change things, but given the Labour Party’s track record, I sincerely doubt it.”

Stephen Crabb MP told The Herald: “The explanation given by Welsh Government for the current rail disruption in West Wales just isn’t good enough. Services have been cut with very little warning and no clear idea when the issues will be fixed. People who need that service to travel to Carmarthen for work or for medical appointments face massive inconvenience.

“We were promised an upgraded service when Transport for Wales took over from Arriva Trains Wales and that has not been the case. Time and time again Pembrokeshire is treated as an afterthought by Welsh Government.”

As the Herald was going to print, South Wales Central AM, Andrew RT Davies, was calling for an Assembly inquiry into the chaos currently being seen across the rail network in Wales.

He told The Herald that constituents across his region have contacted Mr Davies to express their dismay at the situation, which has seen a significant number of journeys cancelled or replaced by buses.

Consequently, Andrew RT Davies has written to the Chair of the Assembly’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee, Russell George, requesting the committee considers undertaking an inquiry into the disruption.

Commenting on the fiasco, South Wales Central AM, Andrew RT Davies, told this newspaper: “To say rail services across the Valley Lines network have been a shambles over the past few weeks is an understatement with severe disruption for commuters across South Wales.

“As well as severe overcrowding, there have been numerous delays and cancellations, with a lack of rolling stock to blame and no spare parts to patch up the current fleet.

“We’re led to believe that around a third, possibly even up to a half of all trains in Wales are out of action, and it’s clear the handover from the previous franchise holders, Arriva Trains Wales, has been poorly executed.

“This has been a very frustrating period for my constituents and many other people across Wales, and I believe this warrants a significant and substantial inquiry from the National Assembly’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee.

“It has clearly been a very difficult start for Transport for Wales – and whilst immediate improvements were always unlikely – the fact the day-to-day management of services is getting worse does not bode well for future promises.”

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Welsh Guards sergeant shot dead during Castlemartin live-fire training exercise

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A BRITISH ARMY sergeant was killed on Thursday night (Mar 4) in a shooting accident at Castlemartin Training Area, The Herald can confirm.

The solider was training with live ammunition, ahead of a planned deployment to Iraq this summer.

Five police cars and an ambulance were seen screaming through Pembroke towards the incident at approximately 10pm towards the incident.

A coastguard helicopter, CG187, was scrambled to the scene, and hovered near Bosherston for a while, but was stood down and returned to base.

The Herald has contacted the MOD for a comment, who said: “It is with great sadness we can confirm the death of a soldier on the 4th of March.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time.

“The circumstances surrounding this death are being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

THIS STORY IS UPDATING

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Pembrokeshire County Council bills Home Office for Penally camp costs

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THE COUNCIL has sent an invoice for more than £80,000 to the Home Office.

It is to cover some of the costs that the local authority has incurred in connection with the Penally Asylum Seeker Centre, near Tenby.

Following a question on the issue from Cllr Jonathan Preston at Full Council the Council have confirmed that a bill has been sent.

The Member for Penally ward asked: “Please can the relevant Cabinet Member provide a breakdown of all costs to this authority which have been incurred in providing staff, services and other associated resources to Penally camp since its re-purpose by the Home Office last September?”

Council leader Cllr. David Simpson confirmed that on February 22 Pembrokeshire County Council submitted an invoice for £83, 858 which includes £65,564 in staff costs, £12,799 of specialist support and £5,495 for works such as barriers.

Pembrokeshire County Council is currently awaiting payment, the Authority confirmed.

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Hospitality sector welcomes Budget boost

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IT HAS been so long it seems since we could stand at a bar and enjoy a well-earned pint, but now we are on the road back to normality, the Herald has spoken to some of those in the hospitality sector who have been asked to close. We wanted to know what the owners in businesses in these sectors locally thought of the budget and if Rishi Sunak had done enough to help them.

We first spoke to a Milford Haven restaurant business. Owner of Martha’s Vineyard in Milford Haven, Dan Mills said that the budget was not a silver bullet to fix all problems but said that the budget had gone a fair way to delivering what many in the Pembrokeshire hospitality sector have been calling for in recent weeks.

Dan Mills said: “The biggest risk many of us were facing was the cliff edge of a VAT increase, the end of the Furlough Scheme and a return to full business rates, I’m pleased that the Chancellor has recognised this and taken action on all fronts.

“With talk of the Welsh Government restricting us to outside trading for an initial period, the flexibility that the Furlough Scheme brings will be a huge help to ensure staff retain their jobs.

“I was also delighted to see that the Chancellor has provided funding to Wales to ensure that we benefit from a further 12 months of Business Rate Relief here in Pembrokeshire, that’s money that many of us can instead invest into restarting our businesses.

“I hope that the conversation that unfortunately began due to Covid between politicians and the Pembrokeshire hospitality and tourism sector can continue long beyond this crisis, it seems that through some open and honest feedback we are making real progress.

Award winning gastro-pub The Griffin Inn is well known throughout Wales and has received many national reviews. Their reputation puts them in a strong position once they are allowed to re-open. We spoke to Sian and Simon Vickers about the budget.

Simon Vickers, co-owner is also a director of Visit Pembrokeshire. He told The Herald: “I think the budget was very positive for the hospitality industry with the reduction in VAT being the biggest help.

“Overall I feel the government have supported the industry amazingly

In regard to tax on alcohol, Simon said: “Duty has been frozen It would have been nice to have seen a cut in it. Whether there’s a cut or not the breweries always increase their prices so in all honesty it never affects us.”

The ongoing financial support has been welcomed by industry group CAMRA, The Campaign or Real Ale, but the organisation said that the Chancellor had missed the opportunity to lower beer duty to save our pubs.

Their national chairman Nik Antona issued a statement to The Pembrokeshire Herald saying: “Freezing alcohol duty is obviously better than a rise. However, CAMRA had hoped to see the Chancellor announce a cut in duty on beer served on tap in pubs and social clubs to benefit consumers and help the great British pub recover and thrive in the difficult months and years ahead by being able to compete with supermarket alcohol.

“The Government’s commitment to review alcohol duties in the coming months is welcome. CAMRA will continue to call for a lower rate of duty for beer served in pubs – an option available to the Government now we have left the European Union.

“Reducing tax on beer served in pubs and social clubs would encourage responsible drinking in a supervised, community setting – as well as boosting jobs and local economies, helping consumers and benefiting pubs and licensees.”

On financial support announced, Nik commented: “Cutting VAT as pubs begin to reopen, and reducing it until April next year, means they can now start benefiting from that cut – but CAMRA believes this VAT cut should be extended to alcohol so that traditional locals that don’t serve food can benefit too.

“The extension of furlough until September and new grants of up to £18,000 are very welcome. However, pubs are unlikely to be able to fully reopen at pre-COVID trading levels due to outside space and then table service only indoors. The beer and pubs sector will need further support over the coming months, over and above new loans, to help them get back on their feet until there is a full and proper re-opening and they can trade at full capacity.

“Extending the business rates holiday until the end of June will help keep the wolves from the door for many English pubs, with the two-thirds reduction for the rest of the financial year a welcome step. However, given how tough it will be for many pubs we believe the 100% cut in business rates needs to be extended for a full 12 months as has already happened in Scotland.”

Picture: Simon Vickers, Griffin Inn, Dale

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