Ken Skates, AM, Minister for Economy and Transport
I would like to update Members that Transport for Wales (TfW) will shortly be announcing plans to increase capacity for up to 6,500 extra rail commuters a week, from 15th December this year, whilst introducing additional trains right across the Wales and Borders rail network.
This represents an increase of 10% capacity for our service users. It will also result in more than 200 additional Sunday services for Wales and the Borders, representing an increase of 45% against the current Sunday service.
Members will be aware that unfortunately, additional trains ordered under the previous operator (known as Class 769) have, despite assurances from their owner Porterbrook, have been significantly delayed, putting additional strain on the already limited fleet which TfW inherited.
Porterbrook have today apologised for this failure.
This issue is affecting rail services across the UK, however despite this delay, TfW have worked hard to secure additional rolling stock in the form of the Class 37 loco-hauled trains and additional Class 153 trains.
Porterbrook have also agreed to provide TfW with additional trains until the previously ordered Class 769s are available for use. TfW has already confirmed the earlier delivery of a modern fleet (known as Class 170), which will each provide between 118 and 181 seats. These will provide not only additional capacity, but, also, improved accessibility, charging points and air conditioning. Initially, these trains will serve passengers between Cheltenham, Cardiff and Maesteg, and between Cardiff and Ebbw Vale.
TfW will also be improving the onboard experience for long-distance journeys with the introduction of refurbished, more accessible Mark 4 intercity carriages on certain services between North Wales and Manchester and an additional loco-hauled service on the key Holyhead-Cardiff route linking North and South Wales.
Improvements for rail passengers in December 2019 will include:
- Valley lines will see more 4 carriage trains on peak services, which will provide extra space for the equivalent of up to 6,500 commuters every week
- Passengers between Cheltenham and Maesteg, and between Cardiff and Ebbw Vale will have the benefit of modern class 170 trains with more seats, on board passenger information systems, accessible toilets, air conditioning, Wi-Fi and power sockets.
- Long distance passengers on some services between North Wales and Manchester will be travelling on more modern ‘Mark 4 intercity’ carriages
While we have been working very hard to mitigate the impact of the wider supply issues on TfW’s service, this has left us with difficult decisions to make around TfW’s immediate compliance with Personal of Restricted Mobility (PRM) accessibility regulations.
The choice for me as Economy and Transport Minister has been stark. To either comply with PRM regulations from January 2020, resulting in a significant reduction in trains in the interest of our passengers, or take the necessary steps to seek a dispensation for some of our trains to operate outside of PRM compliance, for a very short period.
Achieving a PRM deadline set just 15 months after the devolved franchise came into operation was a risk that many of us have been alive to and concerned about. Mitigating it in such a short timescale, when the market is struggling to offer suitable alternatives, was also a problem of which I have been acutely aware. Passengers expect me to ensure that TfW can run a rail service for Wales and the Borders and I have had to balance this need against the urgent need to ensure a fully accessible railway for all of its users.
Therefore, reluctantly and in common with other parts of the UK, I have had no option but to seek a dispensation to operate trains slightly beyond the UK Government’s deadline for compliance with PRM accessibility regulations.
I have mandated that TfW must then do everything within its power to limit the use of these non-PRM compliant units and phase them out at the earliest opportunity.
As passenger feedback has highlighted the need to improve capacity and resilience in the fleet as a key priority, I have reluctantly agreed that TfW should keep a number of existing trains in service into the early part of the new year, subject to receiving the necessary dispensation. The Pacers and Class 37 loco hauled stock will gradually be removed from service as the newer, more comfortable and fully accessible Class 769s become available in the new year. This will allow TfW to increase the number of four carriage trains available to commuters during peak periods.
The popular class 37 loco-hauled trains were temporarily added to the fleet back in May 2019 to help provide an immediate capacity boost on the busy Rhymney Valley line – again in response to demands from customers for extra seats.
Transport for Wales’ customer research reveals that being able to sit or stand comfortably on a train is a top priority for many people and therefore I expect that passengers will welcome plans which will mean a 10% increase in capacity from December.
I am pleased that we are improving the overall experience for passengers using services between Cheltenham and Maesteg and between Cardiff and Ebbw Vale, through the introduction of more modern accessible rolling stock. I am also pleased that December will see an improvement in the experience for passengers in North Wales, with the introduction of the mark 4 intercity carriages on some long-distance services.
A step change in Sunday services is also being introduced from December, which I look forward to confirming in detail in the coming weeks. I have also asked TfW to hold another drop-in session for Members and I am happy to confirm that they will be in Ty Hywel between 11am and 2pm on Wednesday 16 October. I would encourage Members to take advantage of this session, to discuss the December Time Table as well as any other operational matters Members may have.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to remind members of some the achievements of TfW during its first year of operation.
Through its ‘First Fare’ initiative, TfW has created over 3000 new advanced fares making rail travel cheaper than ever form any journeys over 50 miles.
TfW has launched 215 new services per week and has re-opened the Halton Curve track connecting Wrexham with Liverpool by rail for the first time in 40 years, providing an hourly link between Cheshire and Liverpool. This is a major economic boost for the region.
In addition, TfW has introduced a new suite of performance targets and a system where customers can claim for delays of 15 minutes and above and through its ‘Station Improvement Vision’ has announced £194 million investment into railways stations across Wales and Borders.
Lastly, TfW has created 120 jobs and established Community Rail Partnerships across the entire Wales and Borders network to promote and encourage rail use in communities.
I have always been clear that this exciting journey of rail improvement will take time but I think it is important to acknowledge the progress that TfW are continuing to make despite ongoing challenges.