Wales faces radical rail review
Rail services administered by Transport for Wales are simply unacceptable. That is the opinion of the nationalist leader in Wales, Mr Rhun ap Iorwerth. Speaking in the Welsh Parliament in Cardiff, he said there are serious issues with rail services run by Transport for Wales, the body appointed to administer transport operations by the devolved government. He claimed that damning figures revealed that four out of every ten trains in Wales is delayed, and the latest twelve months figures show a deteriorating picture.
The leader of the Welsh nationalist political party (Plaid Cymru) recently addressed the socialist First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, and asked when passenger in Wales can expect to see genuine and sustained improvements in the services run by the government’s agency. Drakeford, who represents the Labour Party in Wales, said that the challenges facing Transport for Wales mean that the service in some parts of Wales has not been of a standard that passengers are entitled to expect. Many Welsh people, regardless of their political persuasions, would say Mr Drakeford should actually have referred to “all parts” of Wales.
Unreliable passenger operations impact freight
Concerns are mounting over deteriorating rail travel standards and connectivity in Wales. Hopes of network expansion and regeneration are being thwarted by unreliability, changing work and life patterns, and all this amid an impending timetable review, which augers badly for hopes of overall service improvements. None of this is the sort of news Welsh industry nor the Welsh public have expected to hear from their recently nationalised rail service provider.
Elected representatives and the public have expressed worries about unreliable services and lack of connections to the north of England, as Transport for Wales faces challenges in post-Covid travel patterns. Train travel in Wales has come under scrutiny as Transport for Wales (TfW) faces increasing concerns over the declining standard of domestic services and inadequate connections into other parts of the UK, particularly the north of England. Worries have also been voiced about the impact of unreliable passenger operations on freight services, especially in areas with constrained infrastructure.
Significant infrastructure investment required
Much of the recent development in Welsh rail freight traffic has come from the bulk flows in the north and mid-Wales regions. There are also hopes for expansion at the ferry port of Holyhead, and a reactivation of the moribund line to Amlwch, both served from the North Wales main line. Timber traffic from Aberystwyth has been a success story and could lead to more demand. However, the aftermath of Covid has caused “massive” changes to travel patterns, according to TfW, which has been forced to radically review its timetables. James Price, the Chief Executive of Transport for Wales, emphasised the need for a review, highlighting that the previous timetables, designed for a pre-Covid, world no longer align with the new normal of remote work and weekend leisure travel.
In a recent appearance in front of a panel of Members of the UK Parliament, Price assured MPs that this examination would not necessarily result in fewer services but rather aim to adapt to the evolving travel demands. It is however difficult to see how radical changes can be addressed without significant infrastructure investment throughout Wales, at the sort of level being afforded to the South Wales Metro project.
Concerns have been raised about the performance of services between north and south Wales, which have been labelled as “incredibly bad.” One exception is the Welsh Marches line, which connects Newport in South Wales and Shrewsbury, just over the English border in Shropshire. The authorities claim it is the only profitable service under the ownership of the Welsh government-operated TfW. This discrepancy underscores the urgency of finding sustainable solutions for the underperforming routes.
Rolling stock delays and TfW mistakes
During the sometimes heated hearing of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee, MPs questioned Mr. Price about poor services and disruptions caused by the ongoing South Wales Metro project, which has faced increasing costs and delays. Originally funded at 738 million pounds (856 million euro), the Metro’s expenses have now exceeded one billion pounds (1.16 billion euro). Delays in obtaining new rolling stock have further complicated matters and negatively impacted service reliability. Addressing the challenges faced during line closures for Metro works, Price acknowledged that TfW made some mistakes, leading to underwhelming performance of replacement bus services. However, he assured the committee that TfW would be making necessary improvements to rectify these issues and enhance overall service quality.
In a significant setback for connectivity, TfW has dropped its plans to expand train services between North Wales and the North West of England. The operator had previously announced intentions to extend the Liverpool to Chester service to Llandudno, with an hourly train service. Additionally, plans were in place for one train per hour between Bangor and Manchester Airport, which would have positively impacted Llandudno, a popular resort on the north Wales coast. However, due to a shortage of new trains, these changes will not be implemented this December, disappointing commuters and businesses relying on improved connectivity.