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‘Transformational change’ in Wales franchise hinges on new trains and electrification

A committee of MPs has urged the Welsh and UK governments to end underdevelopment of the Welsh rail network, pointing to the new Wales and Borders franchise as an opportunity for “transformational change” to the network.

In a new report, the Welsh Affairs Committee (WAC) said that there is an urgent need to acquire new and modern trains for the network, with current rolling stock having an average age of 27 years – and the oldest being 40 years old.

MPs have laid the blame on the current Wales and Borders franchise agreement, which made no allowance for growth in passenger numbers when it was last renewed in 2003 – meaning that wider improvements have been less than what has proven to be required, despite the best efforts of the operator Arriva Trains Wales and the Welsh government.

“The decision to let the 2003 franchise on the basis that there would be no growth in rail usage was a huge mistake,” said the chair of the WAC, David TC Davies MP.

“It has meant that the investment that might have been expected has not been made, and rail users have had to endure the consequences of this. Often this has meant not being able to get a seat, or that the trains have been dirty.”

The Welsh government has been given the power to decide the operators of the next Wales and Borders franchise beginning in early 2018 as part of its new devolved powers.

This has led to hope that rail services may finally improve, but the WAC warned that this will only be possible if the government prioritises infrastructure improvements, primarily the electrification of the Welsh rail network.

The committee has also recommended that more action be taken to acquire new trains for Wales, such as tagging onto existing train orders and acquiring first refusal for Wales on existing trains made available due to upgrades elsewhere.

“As the franchise comes up for tender in 2018 it will be the Welsh government who will have the responsibility to ensure there are improvements,” Davies added. “They told us that the 2018 franchise presents the opportunity for transformational change. If they are successful, then that will be to the great benefit of rail passengers in Wales.”

As the Wales and Borders franchise will remain cross-border, making Welsh MPs unable to take up complaints by English users of the franchise, the WAC has recommended the establishment of a protocol by which English MPs can raise complaints with the Welsh cabinet secretary.

Arriva Trains Wales has already confirmed its bid for the next franchise, joining Abellio, KeolisAmey and MTR. The operator has performed well in punctuality and in passenger satisfaction during the course of the current franchise, securing additional routes to Manchester and Birmingham International Airports, although results have declined recently due to the ageing rolling stock.

The bids are currently being assessed by Transport for Wales, with the winning bid set to be announced next year.

(Image c. Mattbuck)

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Andrew Gwilt   20/01/2017 at 11:59

The Class 315's that are to be cascaded from TfL Rail/Elizabeth Line could be used on suburban services in the Cardiff area as electrification is still to continue in South Wales and to Swansea. Plus the Vivarail's converted former LU D78 Class 230's D-Trains could also be transferred to Arriva Trains Wales to operate on local/rural routes where Class 142 & Class 143 Pacer trains are currently operated on certain lines such as the Valley Lines (including-Butetown Branch Line, City Line, Coryton Line, Vale of Glamorgan Line, Merthyr Line (Aberdare branch and Merthyr Tydfil branch), Rhondda Line and Rhymney Line) and in Southwest England (including-Tarka Line, Avocet Line, Severn Beach Line and Bristol to Exeter Line).

Jimbo   20/01/2017 at 18:01

@Andrew Gwilt - When these MP's complained about the age of stock, I don't think they were asking for older stock - the 315's were built in 1980/81 and so are 36 years old already !! Also, electrification won't get to South Wales until the early 2020's (assuming it still goes ahead), so the 315's will have been scrapped by then. The new Greater Anglia franchise got largely new stock, partially because of complaints from local MP's, so I suspect the Welsh MP's are trying the same route. It really depends how much Transport for Wales is willing to subsidise new stock, because there is far less money around in South Wales compared to the Greater Anglia franchise.

Nonsuchmike   20/01/2017 at 18:20

Mr Gwilt is surely not trying to insult the people of Wales with these ridiculous suggestions? What my fellow Cymraegiau need is longer, more frequent trains running on more routes on (preferably) dualled lines with proper signalling. What they have to put up with is the TOC's attempts to "sardine" people into inappropriate length trains run on a woeful timetable with understaffed stations. The commuters of London wouldn't put up with such a state of affairs and would flood the websites, but the welsh are meant to meekly put up with what they are dealt. Thank goodness I do not have to commute any more; those who do should be treated respectfully and not shoddily by the TOCs as they have been recently..

Jimbo   20/01/2017 at 19:19

@Nonsuchmike - I agree with your statement on Wales's railways, but I think you should try commuting into London before making statements. My line has 3 trains an hour with 8-coach trains which may sound better, but on my commute of an hour, I often have to stand and the trains are crush-loaded for half the journey. London commuters may get more frequent and longer trains, but there are far more people trying to commute, so the result is no different to elsewhere.

Andrew Gwilt   20/01/2017 at 20:39

In that case thanks for the info folks.

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