There is great buzz in Wales. The news is out. Welsh railways are to be transformed under the new deal with train operator and construction firm Keolis-Amey.

What are the plans as announced?

  • An additional 600 staff will be recruited to deliver the service in a range of roles, while 450 new apprenticeships (30 every year) will also be created over the life of the contract.
  • £1.9bn will be invested in improving passengers’ travel experience, including an £800m investment in trains, boosting overall service capacity by 65%.
  • All trains will be replaced by 2023 when 95% of journeys (though not on mileage) will be on brand new trains, half of which will be assembled in Wales at a new train maker factory at Llanwern from Spanish firm CAF.
  • £194m will be invested to modernise all 247 stations with five new stations including in Cardiff at Gabalfa, Crwys Road, Loudoun Square and the Flourish (next to the Wales Millennium Centre), serviced by tram-trains that will run on battery power on street across Cardiff. And it is understood there are plans for a new Treforest station to be located nearer to Nantgarw, where the Department for Work and Pensions is creating a new HQ for 1,700 staff and the campus of Coleg Y Cymoedd is located, than the existing one is.
  • Stations will be powered 100% by renewable energy, at least 50% of which will be sourced in Wales. Investment in active travel initiatives will include the installation of new cycle lockers and a target to achieve secure station accreditation for all stations.
  • Passengers will start to see improvements in service levels from December 2018, with increased capacity on the Valleys Lines and new services between Chester and Liverpool.
  • By the end of 2023, passengers will be able to take advantage of an additional 285 services each weekday across Wales (a 29% increase).
  • This will include improvements to the Ebbw Vale and Wrexham to Bidston lines as well as the Cambrian and Heart of Wales lines.
  • Sunday services will be boosted by 61 % with an additional 294 services across Wales.
  • Smart ticketing will ensure that fares are more flexible and cheaper off-peak fares will be introduced including fare reductions in North Wales and at approximately 50% of stations in the Valleys.

All staff working for Arriva Trains Wales, totalling 2,356 of which 610 are train drivers and 512 guards, will transfer over to KeolisAmey. It currently has a fleet of 127 trains, with in excess of 1,000 passenger services per day.

The new agreement is not a franchise but is termed a partnership between Transport for Wales Ltd and Keolis-Amey. While TfW is a so-called “not-for-profit” company, the operator KeolisAmey is not. Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) made a profit of £27.5m in 2017 and paid £20m in dividends – that will be a thing of the past. TfW will cap KeolisAmey’s profit and plough extra money back into paying for new developments.

This franchise is about much more than the South Wales Metro. TfW is very clear that the operators have to service all of Wales and make sure it is connected in a better way.

This is set against a background in parts of England, with Northern rail bosses apologising for cancelling “far too many trains” and the transport secretary accusing the industry of having “collectively failed” passengers after recent timetable changes.

KeolisAmey’s contract is very clear – if it does not deliver the service it will not be paid. This covers cleanliness, quality of service, punctuality and even whether stops are skipped – all frustrations that have been brought up by passengers.

Wales On-Line Business Editor Sion Barry gives his verdict

‘A new modern era for the railways in Wales, where passenger numbers are growing significantly, will be delivered by KeolisAmey.

A turn-up-and-go service on the Valley Lines, and more frequency on the rest of the Wales & Borders franchise, is promised.

But this can only be the start. Wales has not had its fair share in rail investment in the UK over the last few decades.

With electrification to Swansea abandoned, the UK Government needs to provide funding to deliver the emerging metro plans for both Swansea Bay and north Wales.

And the Welsh Government also needs to have a direct input over the shape of the next Great Western rail franchise from south Wales to London. And we also need to see more frequency of service between south Wales and Bristol.

And the case, with the south west of England, also needs to be made for high speed rail to come westwards as soon as possible, with the current emphasis all on reaching cities in the north of England.

Transport for Wales, the Welsh Government’s transport company, also needs to spread it wings, into the bus market, which will see it operating a new bus station in the centre of Cardiff.

And while bus regulation is not yet devolved, it needs to ensure greater time tabling alignment between bus and rail services across Wales.

And as part of this process it should explore bringing ‘in house’ Cardiff and Newport bus companies which are already publicly-owned by their respective local authorities.

And while in real terms the level of Welsh Government subsidy to private bus companies in Wales has been declining in recent years, Transport for Wales should work collaboratively with the likes of NAT and Stagecoach, to ensure more bus services are aligned to train services, underpinned by a single ticketing platform.

And with the marketing reach of Transport for Wales this can be a win-win; with both improved alignment between bus and rail and increased bus passenger numbers for the bus companies.

KeolisAmey has put innovation at the core of its Metro plans. And it will be introducing trimodal tram-train rolling stock, which are not as proven as trams, on some of the network; and with that comes an element of operational risk.

But its solution for the franchise and the Metro is bold and ambitious and it needs the support of Wales plc to ensure its wider economic impact potential is maximised in the years ahead.’

But notice something? There is a distinct lack of reference to the Marches Line along the Borders. Cross boundary services along the North Wales coast to Manchester and Liverpool are included as is the Cambrian line from Aberystwyth and the coast to Birmingham. But where is our Marches Line? Where does it appear in station infrastructure improvements; where does it appear in local service improvements and new rolling stock?

The small print says it all, because the Marches Line remains the responsibility of the Department for Transport although administered by the Welsh Government under an Agency Agreement. So if the DfT say the norm is no change to existing service levels then the Welsh Government say ok. They can improve the South-North Wales service because that is Welsh but not the Cardiff-Manchester service because that is firmly English through English local authority territory.

For the Marches Rail Users Alliance and RBfH there is a firm need to be vigilant and keep a very wary eye on developments the other side of the Border. As well as ensuring a continuous and constructive dialogue with TfW and Keolis Amey, it is essential also that the DfT and our three MPs are kept involved, whether they want to be or not.

Gareth Calan Davies