"Too often in our history, we’ve talked about the ownership models for rail, without also thinking through clearly enough what we wanted to do with the network itself."
After several tough years, Welsh rail passengers will be hoping for better journeys ahead with the announcement of a £5 billion investment to fund improvements to the frequency and quality of Wales and Borders services, as well as the creation of the South Wales Metro. The troubled reign of Arriva Trains Wales operating the Wales and Borders rail service has come to end with last month’s announcement that KeolisAmey will be taking over the franchise and Metro from 14th October 2018. A joint venture partnership of international public transport operator Keolis with infrastructure asset management specialist Amey, KeolisAmey will work in partnership with Transport for Wales, running all services under the Transport for Wales brand.
There were initially four bidders for the new rail service: MTR Corp (Cymru) Ltd and Abellio Rail Cymru submitted tenders but Abellio had to withdraw from the competition following the collapse of its partner Carillion. Arriva Rail Wales/Rheilffyrdd Arriva Cymru Ltd, the fourth shortlisted bidder, withdrew at an earlier stage of the process.
Last year, independent watchdog, Transport Focus were critical of the existing service on the Wales and Borders services with their Chief Executive Anthony Smith stating; “Many passengers in Wales are currently travelling on trains well past their sell-by date. Older trains, carrying more passengers than the number of seats available, makes for an uncomfortable journey. Passengers deserve better. Persistent delays to services on parts of the current Arriva Trains Wales network have diminished the expectations of passengers. It’s important that the next operator and Network Rail get the basics right to rebuild trust with passengers.”
With the cancelling of the Great Western electrification between Cardiff and Swansea, this announcement and investment aims to provide a welcome boosts to public transport in the south and the east of the country.
Departing Welsh Government First Minister, Carwyn Jones ( @fmwales ) stated; “This is an important moment for transport in Wales and begins a new chapter for rail services in this country. The way we shaped this procurement was different. We put passengers’ priorities at the centre of our thinking and threw out a challenge to all of the bidders to address the concerns they had about seat capacity, journey times and service frequency. People said they wanted affordable fares and newer, cleaner trains and we have worked hard to ensure this is reflected in what we are launching today. This is a chance not simply to build a modern, forward looking transport system, but to use it as an important tool to shape the life of the nation around us. This is a landmark moment in the future development of Wales.”
The announcement comes as rail powers are devolved to the Welsh Government. This follows detailed discussions between the Department for Transport and the Welsh Government. The agreement takes into account the fact that many of the rail services operate on both sides of the border between England and Wales and includes safeguards to protect all passengers using these routes.
Aspects of the new Wales and Borders rail contract include:
- An additional 600 staff will be recruited to deliver the service in a range of roles and 450 new apprenticeships (30 every year) will also be created over the life of the contract.
- £1.9 billion will be invested in improving passengers’ travel experience, including an £800 million investment in trains, boosting overall service capacity by 65 per cent.
- All trains will be replaced by 2023 when 95 per cent of journeys will be on brand new trains, half of which will be assembled in Wales.
- £194 million will be invested to modernise all 247 stations and build four new stations: Gabalfa, Crwys Road, Loudoun Square and the Flourish.
- Stations will be powered 100 per cent by renewable energy, at least 50 per cent of which will be sourced in Wales. This is just one of the ways that the new service will contribute to achieving the policy goals of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.
- Sunday services will be boosted by 61 per cent with an additional 294 services across Wales, creating a true seven-day-a-week service.
- 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 per cent of stations in the valleys.
- New technology will also help to reduce disruption and improve services.
- In response to customer demand, more frequent trains, reduced journey times and more flexible fares will make travelling easier and more cost effective.
- Greater capacity and improved services will also help to maximise the economic development opportunities provided by the new service, enabling people to take advantage of more and better employment opportunities.
Welcoming the benefits for transport and economy in Wales, Ken Skates ( @KenSkatesAM ) , Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure said: “This is the first time a rail service has been procured and awarded in Wales, for Wales. It follows over four years of intense work to develop a bespoke, innovative approach and responds to the lessons learned from rail franchising and infrastructure delivery across the UK in recent years. Too often in our history, we’ve talked about the ownership models for rail, without also thinking through clearly enough what we wanted to do with the network itself. We now have a once in a generation opportunity here to correct this.”
Alistair Gordon, Chief Executive of Keolis UK ( @KeolisAmeyWales ) , said: “For too long the railways in Wales have suffered from under investment and, while the changes we need to make will take time, we are creating a platform for future economic growth and prosperity that will benefit all of Wales now and for generations to come.In five years’ time, the railway will be unrecognisable from what it is today thanks to the vision of the Welsh Government. We can’t wait to get started.”
Andy Milner, Amey’s Chief Executive ( @Ameyplc ) said: “Building on our successful partnership with Keolis, which already sees us deliver two high performing services – the Greater Manchester Metrolink and London’s Docklands Light Railway – we are excited to be taking on the Wales and Borders contract. This is a great opportunity for us to use our joint capabilities to deliver a first-rate service for Wales and its communities.”
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