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Chancellor weighs in on rail row

Chancellor weighs in on rail row

We've already had the Prime Minister, the Welsh Secretary and the First Minister involved in the row over paying for the electrification of the south Wales valleys rail network, so I suppose it was just a matter of time before the Chancellor weighed in.

And as the man who controls the purse strings for the UK government, it is significant for George Osborne to say that a deal was struck two years ago for the cost of this project to be shared.

The stakes are high because this is all going to cost in the region of half a billion pounds and was announced with great fanfare as part of a package that would lead to the greatest investment in the Welsh rail network since the Victorian era.

What became clear today when I spoke to Mr Osborne at the Tata steel plant in Port Talbot is that he's not going to be signing any big cheques soon to foot the bill.

Not that it works that way in the world of rail infrastructure projects.

The cost would be met over a number of years through access charges paid by the train operating company to use the track.

For an update on the latest developments, here's a story Dan Davies did on Friday about a paper trail produced by the Welsh Secretary David Jones which he claims shows a deal was done for the Welsh government to be liable for the cost of the valleys upgrade.

The Welsh Government says the trail does nothing to contradict its view that it should not be funding the scheme.

Lines of responsibility

This is what the Chancellor told Oliver Hides on Good Morning Wales: "The deal was set out in 2012. There's shared financing for the whole electrification project, the London to Swansea line which is principally the responsibility of the Westminster Government, and then the Valleys lines which is principally the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government."

The question is: Where does it all go from here?

There's a Joint Ministerial Council meeting in London on Wednesday when the First Minister will get the chance to raise the issue with a senior member of the UK Coalition Government.

I'm told he's not going to hold back.

What is unclear at this stage is the extent to which this disagreement, which shows no sign of being resolved, is threatening the go-ahead of the valleys lines electrification, and indeed that of the mainline to Swansea.

No-one is downing tools so to speak, but presumably if this carries on then that is what's going to happen - or the tools will never become operational on large parts of the south Wales network in the first place.

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