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TOCs invited to submit late franchise tenders as Wales promises more staff

The Welsh Government has today invited final tenders for the next Wales and Borders franchise, which is expected to include more staff and a safety critical guard on all services.

This comes despite the fact that it has failed to reach an agreement with the UK Government on the franchise’s devolution, which now may not be handed to the Wales government until next year.

But economy secretary Ken Skates has promised that a “resolution is near” and revealed the two parties have now decided to press ahead with the final tenders.

They had originally intended to issue the tender invitation in August, but this was delayed due to the ongoing row over devolved powers and funding.

“There is will on both sides to ensure that the settlement works for Wales and the Borders,” he added. “From rolling stock to frequency of services, Metros to profit thresholds, this final tender will provide the blueprint for what these four giants of the rail industry are bidding to provide Wales.

“Detailed discussions with all four of the shortlisted potential operators have only served to reinforce our optimism that the next service will see big improvements. I look forward to seeing how the detailed tenders tackle our ambitious requirements for the next 15 years before making a decision on the successful operator in early 2018.”

As previously reported by RTM, the four companies invited to submit final tenders today include incumbent operator Arriva Trains Wales alongside Abellio Rail Cymru, KeolisAmey and MTR Corporation (Cymru) Ltd.

The first minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones AM, also revealed that the next franchise could include more employees as part of a series of commitments made to unions following “positive and constructive discussions.”

As well as more staff, these include a safety critical conductor on all trains, heavy rail infrastructure outside of Core Valleys lines remaining with Network Rail, and working with unions around ticket office and station staff aspirations. And if “future legislation allows,” the service may also be part of a UK national integrated railway under public ownership.

“Our hard-working railway staff are a major asset in delivering a modern and safe railway and it is right that they are central to our ambitious plans for the new Wales & Border Services and South Wales Metro,” explained Jones. “I am, therefore, delighted that we have been able to have such positive and constructive discussions with the railway trade unions, something I have been keen to ensure from the offset.

“These are progressive commitments that will mean a better service for passengers and a better railway in Wales, and I look forward to this positive dialogue continuing as we develop our plans.”

Rail union Aslef welcomed these commitments and called for similar ambitions across the rest of the industry.

Its general secretary, Mick Whelan, said: “We welcome these commitments. We also commend the Welsh government for recognising the importance of consulting with the rail unions.

“Our members are the people who deliver the service on a daily basis and their voice must always be heard when deciding how the industry moves forward.”

Mick Cash, who heads up fellow union RMT, also commended the first minister’s “breakthrough” commitment to keep a guard on every train – a cornerstone of his union’s fight against driver-only operated (DOO) services, which have led to over a year’s worth of strikes across Southern and are now affecting franchises up north.

(Top image c. Matt Buck)


King's Lynn   29/09/2017 at 10:24

Train services in Wales need a major kick up the bum. There is so much untapped potential there, it's untrue. Leaving the Ebbw Valley Railway project aside, If you look at the case of Gowerton station in Swansea; simply by reinstating the second platform and changing it from a request stop caused passenger numbers to increase from about 4000 per year in 2005 to 143,000 in 2015/16. Even simple schemes like this would bring massive benefits to any franchise holder. I'd like to think/hope stuff like this might be discussed with one or two potentials,rather than just 'run the trains and make sure they don't break too often'.

Carl   29/09/2017 at 12:44

Well done Carwyn Jones, Wales' first minister, if only Chris Grayling was so forward thinking & proactive

Sonning Cutting   29/09/2017 at 18:20

During a recent visit to Cardiff Central the station information indicators were scanning from Welsh to English as is usual in Wales. However Welsh was on for at least twice as long as the English. As a non-welsh speaking visitor - who lived in Swansea for 10 years -I found this very perplexing as I was unable to scan the information in the rest period. Also how many people in S.Wales have Welsh as their first language. Perhaps the new operator could improve on this and encourage more non-welsh speaking tourists.

Neil Palmer   29/09/2017 at 19:29

So in other words they've sold out to Union blackmail, just like devolved Scotland did. I hope they at least got a commitment to run a service (instead of cancelling) in rare cases like when a guard is scheduled but is delayed, or has to leave the train to look after a sick passenger etc. But no, I'm sure they gave away the farm for nothing in compensation from the unions.

Jerry Alderson   29/09/2017 at 21:03

Hard to compare the two sides as the RMT is directly quoted, referring to "guards", but the Welsh Government is not quoted directly and the references attributed to its intentions say "conductors". It is not clear if this is RTM's presentation. The term safety-critical really just means 'mandatory' i.e. a train will not move with passengers on board unless the so-called safety-critical person is on board. Despite an implication of something to do with 'safety', the mandatory nature of the second person does not imply that they will operate the doors. It may simply be that they are customer-facing. The RMT's key (some would say only) concern is that when its members go on strike no trains should run. However, this supposed victory is potentially a straw man, as Greater Anglia is currently showing that it can crew the second person's role using back office staff rather than RMT members.

Andrew Gwilt   30/09/2017 at 14:21

I think Abellio or KeolisAmey are likely going to win the bid to take over the Welsh & Borders franchise as Arriva Trains Wales have been serving the railways across Wales since they first started in the late 1990’s. I assume Abellio will take over.

Mark Hare   06/10/2017 at 14:24

Andrew - why do you assume Abellio will take over? Have you somehow seen each operator's bid and gone through the details? Are you somehow privy to whose bid comes in as the best value for money? Do you have insider knowledge of the workings of the Welsh government? If not then I suggest you have no more idea of who will be successful than the rest of us and are merely speculating, as usual.

Andrew Gwilt   07/10/2017 at 00:28

Ok. Before we continue arguing again as always. Abellio might take over the Welsh and Borders franchise. But other bidders such as Arriva, KeliosAmey and few others could take over the W&B rail franchise if they do win the contract to take over.

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