(Title Image: Keolis-Amey via BBC Wales)
Earlier this week, the winners of the new Wales & Borders rail franchise (Keolis-Amey) and Transport for Wales unveiled detailed plans for what they plan to do with the £5billion, 15-year contract.
The new franchise starts in October, succeeding Arriva Trains Wales.
Some of the details were already subject to heavy speculation, but due to the levels of secrecy surrounding the bid and its award – which raises serious questions by itself – it’s only now that we know precisely what they’re planning to do.
The full details are available from Transport for Wales with some additional bits of info from the Economy & Infrastructure Secretary, Ken Skates (Lab, Clwyd South). It was also heavily discussed at this week’s First Minister’s Questions (coming up later). Here are the selected highlights.
- Keolis-Amey will have their profits capped by Transport for Wales, with excess profits re-invested (it’s understood to be a £100-150million profit cap).
- 600 additional jobs will be created with current Arriva Trains Wales staff transferring to the new franchise. 30 apprenticeships will be created each year.
- All stations and electrified sections will be 100% powered by renewable energy, with at least 50% of that generated in Wales.
- Free wi-fi will be available on 85% of journeys by 2024.
- £1.25million will be invested each year in community activities and seven new Community Rail Partnerships will be established.
- Under-11s will be able to travel for free and half-price fares will be extended to 18-year-olds, with under-16s also being able to travel for free off-peak.
- An additional 700 customer information screens and 200 ticket machines will be installed.
- Passengers will be compensated for delays of more than 15 minutes from January 2019.
- The Welsh Government are seeking to ask the UK Government to give them the franchising power for intercity services between Wales and the rest of the UK (I presume this means Swansea-London, Holyhead-London).
Station & Rolling Stock Improvements
- Pacers will be withdrawn from service by December 2019.
- £800million will be invested in new trains, with 95% of journeys taken on new trains from 2023. At least half of these will be built in Wales (by the CAF plant in Newport). The new livery will be red and silver/off-white and be branded with Transport for Wales.
- £194million will be spent upgrading stations, with at least five new mainline and branch line stations built. Major station investments will take place at Merthyr Tydfil (from Apr. 2020), Carmarthen (2021), Machynlleth (2021), Abergavenny (from Apr. 2023), Chepstow (from Apr. 2025), Llanelli (from 2025), Cardiff Central (from Apr 2025) and Chester (from 2028).
- A new app for disabled passengers will launch by the end of 2020 to allow a genuine “turn up and go” service in addition to a £15million investment in station accessibility.
- 1,500 new car parking spaces.
- Class 170 units will be used on the Heart of Wales line by December 2022.
- Appropriate signage will be provided for highlighting active travel options with new cycle locks installed.
New & Improved Mainline Services
- Increased frequency on the Wrexham-Bidston line (from Dec. 2021) and between Chester and Liverpool (from Dec. 2018); will introduce a new two-hourly Cardiff-Liverpool service and hourly Shrewsbury-Liverpool and Llandudno-Liverpool services (from Dec 2022).
- Reduced fares between Shotton and Chester and Leominster and Shrewsbury.
- Hourly Ebbw Vale-Newport services to start from December 2021.
- Half-hourly services along the Vale of Glamorgan line (Barry-Bridgend) from December 2023.
- At least 4 trains per hour between Cardiff and Bridgend via the south Wales mainline from December 2019.
- Hourly services between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury by Dec. 2021; additional Sunday services between Tywyn and Pwllheli from Dec. 2023 and an additional service each day along the Heart of Wales Line from Dec. 2022.
- Introduce a “first class” intercity service between Swansea and Manchester from 2024 and a refurbished intercity service between north and south Wales.
- An extra 294 services will be run on Sundays across Wales from December 2019.
South Wales Metro
- As previously speculated, the City, Rhondda, Cynon, Cardiff Bay and Merthyr Tydfil lines will run tram-trains (introduced from Dec. 2022) running on a mixture of batteries and overhead power, maintained at a new depot in Taffs Well. The aim is to enable at least four services per hour along each line.
- Tri-mode (electric, diesel and battery) trains will enable retention of cross-city links to/from Barry, Bridgend (via Vale) and Penarth by December 2023. It’s hinted these will run to/from the Rhymney valley and possible Ebbw Vale.
- The Coryton line will be extended to the new Velindre hospital (but it’s unclear precisely how the Coryton branch fits with the Metro yet).
- As speculated, the Metro tram-trains won’t have toilets, but more facilities will be provided at stations.
- New Metro stations will be built in Cardiff between 2023-2028 at Crwys Road, Gabalfa, Loudon Square (Butetown) and The Flourish (Cardiff Bay).
- Treforest Estate station will be relocated (closer to Nantgarw) by December 2025.
- The fare structure will be “simplified” with anytime return and weekly season tickets for stations furthest from Cardiff being as much as 14% cheaper.
- Ticket machines will be provided at all Metro stations by April 2019 and a “pay-as-you-go” smart card system introduced by April 2020.
My thoughts? The ambition’s there. The ideas are technically feasible as far as I can tell. I’m sure Transport for Wales can raise a bit of cash by charging the public to have a go at bulldozing the Pacers themselves.
If I want to be parochial, Bridgend misses out – there’s no mention of a new station at Brackla or any increase in frequency to and from Maesteg (apart from Sunday services).
I have to be objective of course and I would take the projected investment figures with a pinch of salt (these things have a nasty habit of turning out to be more expensive than first anticipated) and I’d also say some of the timescales are optimistic based on the slow progress and slow investment (from both Cardiff and London) to date.
Keolis is also part owner-operators of Thameslink, Southern and Northern. The latter has been beset by serious problems recently caused by a new timetable and in the case of Southern, long-running industrial disputes and passenger dissatisfaction. You would hope they’ve learned lessons for when this is introduced in Wales and the Borders, though it’s unclear what role Transport for Wales will play in terms of keeping the operational side of things on a leash.
This is cause for optimism, but it should be guarded optimism – believe it when you see it. It wouldn’t be the first time Wales has had carrots dangled in front of us that turned out to be rotten once we grabbed them. More on that later this week.