Transforming the Welsh railway

Source: RTM June/July 2018

Colin Lea, mobilisation director of rail services at Transport for Wales (TfW), takes a look at the promising future of the refreshed Wales and Borders franchise.

TfW, a not-for-profit company owned by the Welsh Government, has developed what is  a new model in rail franchising by combining operations – the traditional focus – with elements of infrastructure maintenance, upgrades and development, focused on the South Wales Metro Core Valley Lines (CVL) around Cardiff. This model includes quality control elements seen in some concessions with an incentive to grow the service normally seen in a franchise.

This Operator and Development Partner (ODP) agreement is a very exciting evolutionary step in UK rail, and I believe it could become a blueprint for other devolved bodies in the future. It will localise decision-making and align track and train together for the benefit of customers and economic development, with a clear devolved public sector ownership model.

From October and for the next 15 years, KeolisAmey, which is a partnership between global public transport operator Keolis and infrastructure asset management specialist Amey, will be TfW’s new ODP, running the Wales and Borders rail service and the South Wales Metro under the TfW brand.

This will be Keolis and Amey’s third partnership in the UK following our appointments to operate London’s Docklands Light Railway and Greater Manchester’s Metrolink.

Change coming down the tracks

Almost £2bn of additional investment as part of nearly £5bn of expenditure over the next 15 years will go into the Wales and Borders network and South Wales Metro. This will herald a new era for passengers based on more services, new trains, improved stations and a more reliable network.

Nearly £200m will be spent modernising all 247 stations in the network and in building five new ones.

Within five years from now, 95% of journeys will be made on brand-new trains – half of which will be assembled in Wales – following an £800m investment in new rolling stock. This will include 77 CAF Civity DMUs, assembled in Newport, to operate on the rural and regional routes.

On the South Wales Metro there will be 11 new Stadler Flirt DEMUs, reducing journey times and providing level boarding routes across the Valleys and wider South East Wales.

On the Central Metro, 24 Stadler Tri-mode Flirts will link Penarth, Barry and Bridgend to destinations north of Cardiff Central, using power from overhead wires, batteries and, south of Cardiff, diesel engines. Twenty-six Stadler Citylink Metro Vehicles, bringing on-street running back to Cardiff, will also be introduced.

Step-changes will be introduced as soon as 2019: Vivarail will heavily rebuild five Class 230 D-Trains – battery-assisted hybrids operating the North Wales Metro – featuring universal access toilets, wi-fi, air conditioning, USB ports and plug sockets.

A further 25 trains  will  also  be  cascad ed before 2020, including five Class 769s, converted from Thameslink’s Class  319s  to boost capacity on the Valley Lines, and 12 Class 170s from Greater Anglia on the Ebbw Vale/Maesteg/Cheltenham lines of the South Wales Metro.

Three ex-LNER Mark IV carriages will replace the Mark IIIs on the North-South Wales Express services, where the food services will be retained and further developed.

All in all, these investments will increase capacity by 65%, with an extra 285 services on weekdays and 294 on Sundays – establishing a true seven-day service from 2019, a 22% boost in Sunday mileage, and more to follow.

Smarter developments

Technology upgrades will wrap around these improvements in rolling stock, capacity and infrastructure. Smart ticketing, a new app and website, and better on-board mobile phone connectivity will be the most visible changes for passengers, alongside wifi at every station.

Behind the scenes, digital rail traffic management will help reduce disruption and improve efficiency on the Central Metro and between Newport and Shrewsbury.

The transformation of the South Wales Metro, including the CVL, will be one of the biggest new developments in UK light rail and rapid transit since the expansion of Nottingham’s and Manchester’s tram networks.

It will see five new stations create links for disconnected communities with Cardiff and neighbouring towns. Track will be redoubled at 15 sites, a major junction remodelled, line speed improvements and a new on-stet tramway, including a new station in Cardiff Bay as we introduce true ‘tram-train’ mixedmode operation.

‘Smart’ over line electrification with permanently earthed sections around restricted structures will be introduced, saving 55 interventions. The CVL will be a showcase of smart electrification for other places in the UK and will help improve the business case for new projects.

Wales’s railways have, for too long, suffered from underinvestment. While our changes will take time, they are transformational upgrades that will create an infrastructure and quality passenger service that will support generations to come.

Moving home

Helping the Welsh economy to thrive is integral to TfW.

The agreement is of such significance to Keolis that it will be moving its headquarters from London to Wales by 2019. On top of this, its global rail division will relocate to Wales from Paris by 2020. Keolis’ future in the UK will include developments in parking, cycling and buses – all led from the new home in Wales.

These moves will create 130 new jobs, while the new franchise will also generate an additional 600 new roles over the lifetime of the contract and 30 new apprenticeship places every single year.

Amey will also open a new design office in Wales and, together, Keolis and Amey will be opening a shared services and contact centre to provide back-office support the KeolisAmey businesses.

We hope that the new HQ and shared service services centre will become centres of excellence and knowledge that will serve wider subsidiaries globally.


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