Wales and Borders: The rebirth of rail services in Wales

THE WELSH RAILWAY IS ENAGED IN A NEW STAGE. SINCE 2018 AND FOR THE NEXT 15 YEARS A CONSORTIUM HEADED BY THE PRIVATE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION OPERATOR KEOLIS AND THE SERVICE PROVIDER AMEY INFRASTRUCTURE SUPPORT ARE ENTRUSTED WITH ITS DEVLOPEMENT.

Transportation in Wales and its entire coastal area will experience great impetus over the next few years that will result in greater and better connections. This stage of transformation, planned with large investments, began on October 15, 2018, with the awarding by the Government of Wales of the railway services, over the next 15 years, to the consortium formed by the private operator of public transport services, Keolis, and the infrastructure support service provider Amey.

Under the name of “Transport for Wales Rail Services”, during this time, it will take over connections to all regions of Wales, as well as to communities along the border in England.

To complete the management of these routes, Keolis UK, which also manages Manchester Metrolink and Docklands Light Railway, plans to relocate its headquarters from London to Wales by 2019, and its global railway division from Paris to Wales by 2020.

Following the award of the contract by the Government of Wales, through the Ministry of Transportation, KeolisAmey, assumed the role of operator and Development Partner (ODP). It is a modality that combines network and infrastructure management.

Both parties have signed a collaboration agreement to cooperate in the improvement of the network, through investment in new infrastructure, the modernisation of the existing one, acquisition of new rolling stock for the total replacement of the current rail fleet, with modern trains and equipped with the state-of-the-art technology.

The Welsh Government wants rail connections to have been completely transformed and become a means of modern, fast transport with efficient routes within five years.

“The Welsh Government wants rail connections to have been completely transformed in five years”.

 

To this end, a massive investment programme has been launched with which the entire network will be revitalised. This plan includes the increase in services, the acquisition of new rolling stock, the implementation of innovative solutions and the overhaul of stations. These improvements are aimed at meeting the aims contained in the government document “Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 ”.

From the Welsh Ministry of Economy they have announced that the global investment planned for this program is 5 billion pounds. One of the main actions,

which will be allocated 823 million euros, will be the transformation of the lines to Treherbert, Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhymney and Coryton. These funds will be used in the electrification works of 172 kilometres of roads and infrastructure improvements to increase the travel times and the frequency of the trains every hour.

Furthermore, 216 million euros will be invested in the improvement of stations and buildings and in the construction of at least five more. Additionally, an item of 16.7 million euros has been approved to make the foregoing more accessible. This section also includes the implementation of new technologies, such as a new assistance application called ‘Turn up and Go’ that will be operational in April 2020.

 

Improvement plans

The improvement plans also include the creation of 1,500 new parking spaces at stations and ticketing systems for the year 2023 with smart ticketing systems with new mobile payment options. More than 200 new vending machines will be acquired to improve access to the transport network. It is also expected that there will be free Wi-Fi in 85% of trips for the year 2024.

Another project planned is the installation of more than 700 information screens throughout the network and in other areas such as hospitals, schools and work areas.

The Welsh Government is committed to following the example of the Dutch railway and supplying renewable energy for supply at stations and electrification of overhead contact lines. Hence 100% of the energy used will come from clean sources.

This plan will be completed with the recruitment of 600 employees that will be added to the current workforce; 200 of them acting as customer service support

“The Welsh Government wants rail connections to have been completely transformed in five years”.

Frequency expansion

With regards to frequency expansion, in December 2019, 294 extra routes will be provided throughout Wales, which represents an increase of 61%. In December 2023, there will be another 285  additional services every day of the week, an increase of 29% compared to current connections.

These improvements include the Ebbw Vale, Cwmbran, Heart of Wales and the North Wales subway (Wrexham-Bidston) lines. To this is added the start-up of a new service that will connect Cardiff and Liverpool.

“Amongst the improvement plans, the expansion of train frequencies is included”.

New trains

One of the big changes will be the renovation of 95% of the rolling stock by 2023. To achieve this, an allocation of 892 million euros has been set aside for the acquisition of new state-of-the-art rolling stock. As the transport administration manager has specified, half of them will have to be built in Wales. This investment is due to the fact that the average age of the current trains on the routes being 27 years. In this new fleet, trains of three types will be included to complete the services of Penarth, Barry and Bridgend to the north of Cardiff Central.

In terms of the companies in charge of the renovated rail fleet, it should be noted that in August 2018 KeolisAmey selected CAF as a “preferred bidder” to bolster the lines of the Wales and Borders franchise with cutting-edge trains. This contract included the supply and maintenance of 44 units of two coaches and 26 units of three coaches, which, according to the scheduled calendar, will be operationally ready in September 2022.

In addition, CAF will build another seven units of two coaches, which will be delivered in 2024. These are units based on the Civity UK platform. The vehicles are designed to be incorporated into regional and commuter services, have the latest security technology and meet high standards of comfort and accessibility. The assembly is carried out at the company’s facilities in Celtic Business Park, Newport (South Wales).

KeolisAmey has also commissioned the Stadler Rail Valencia company with 71 vehicles (36 CitiLink-type battery-powered tram trains and 35 Flirt trains) to improve business operations in the Welsh network. Of this amount, the trams will be designed and manufactured in Albuixech and will be destined to operate on the line from Cardiff to the cities of Treherbert, Aberdare and Merthyr Tydfil from the year 2022. In turn, with regard to the Flirt trains, 11 of them will run on diesel and will be intended for use on the metropolitan rail services of Maesteg, Ebbw Vale and Cheltenham, in the south. The other 24 units will be incorporated into the routes that link the Glamorgan Valley and destinations located north of the city of Cardiff and will have the possibility of running on diesel, power lines or batteries.

Together with these two companies, Vivarail has also been selected to supply five of its 230 Class D-Trains.

“One of the major changes will be the renewal of 95% of rolling stock by the year 2023”.

North Wales

In the North Wales area, the programme includes numerous improvement actions. On one side, in 2022 the new fleet of diesel multiple units (DMU) was introduced on the north coast of Wales in 2022. To increase the capacity of the “North Wales Metro” network, it will be invested in the renovation of the Shotton Station and Wrexham General stations from April 2024, the construction

of new buildings in Blaenau Ffestiniog  will be co-financed, and new ticket vending machines will be installed. Regarding new technology, an application will be developed so that users can find the cheapest fares available. Regarding frequencies, there is a new service to Chester to Liverpool Lime Street since May 2019, also from Liverpool to Llandudno and Shrewsbury and from Liverpool to Cardiff (1 train every 2 hours), in addition to direct services between Manchester Airport and Bangor.

Southwest Wales

Plans devised for south-east Wales include the replacement of the entire fleet of class 158 by new diesel multiple units (DMU) in the Cambrian line during the year 2022.

A year later, new DMU units will also be incorporated on the route from Milford Haven to Manchester.

For the “Heart of Wales” line, Class 170 coach units are being refurbished to enter into commercial operation in 2022. The improvement programme has set aside an allocation for the modernisation of the Carmarthen and Machynlleth stations, ready for 2021, and Llanelli for 2025.

The number of train frequencies will also be strengthened on the Cambrian line from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth, Heart of Wales and between Tywyn and Pwllheli. In addition, first class service from Swansea to Manchester will be established from 2024.

Southeast Wales

The changes will begin with the withdrawal of the Pacer model trains (Classes 140, 141, 142, 143 and 144) in December 2019. For their replacement, new vehicles will be incorporated in the year 2022 to the services of the valleys of Treherbert, Aberdare of the fleet.

Alongside this are the plans to eliminate the use of diesel on Central Metro lines by 2024. With regard to the bolstering of train frequencies, there will be a new stretch between Ebbw Vale and Newport for May 2021, and two more between Cardiff and Bridgend from December 2023 onwards. The scheduled services on the Rhymney route and the Treherbert network, between Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare and Cardiff and Cardiff to Cheltenham.

“The train will be the main means of transport in Wales in the coming years after the modernisation plans”.

Coastal Areas

The area on the coast will also benefit from the plans to boost the railways. For the year 2023, there will be new diesel multiple units (DMU) featuring two and three coaches in the connection between Milford Haven to Manchester.

On long distance lines running Northbound-Southbound, 12 Mark IV coaches have been refurbished to improve user experiences on services from Cardiff to Holyhead via Shrewsbury. Upgrades are also planned for Chester Station.

South Wales Metropolitan Railway

Amongst the improvement proposals are also the plans for the South Wales Metropolitan Railway. This entails a major project that has as its aims the transformation of the transport system in the Cardiff capital region through the combination of different means of transport (trains, buses, light rail systems) to provide swifter, more comfortable and frequent services.

This network includes all of the lines to the north of Cardiff, those between Marches to Abergavenny, “Vale of Glamorgan” and the main de South Wales connection, along with the branch routes of Ebbw Valley and Maesteg. The project has been divided into two stages. The first, costing 77 million pounds, has already seen the undertaking of improvement tasks, and has achieved significant progress, such as the new stations at Ebbw Vale Town, which required an investment of 11.5 million pounds and improvements to rail and bus stations in the entire region (for example in Newport).

In the beginning of July, a new miles tone was reached in this project, with the start of works to build a depot, costing 100 million pounds, which will centralise all South Wales Metropolitan Railway operations. Furthermore, at least four new stations will be built on the Cardiff light rail system (Gabalfa, Crwys Road, Loudoun Square and Flourish).

The second stage, scheduled for 2026, will focus on the overhaul of the Valley Lines connections, with the electrification of 80% of its section, and the main railway network in the South. Improvements have been planned to the infrastructure at Rhymney, Coryton and Bay Line on the lines serving Treherbert, Aberdare and Merthyr thus allowing for the improvement of services, amongst other projected actions.

“At least four new stations will be built on the Cardiff light rail system”.