Posted: Mon 16th May 2022

After three years of delays, there is still no sign of TfW’s new Class 230 trains

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, May 16th, 2022

The introduction of brand new trains on the Wrexham – Shotton – Bidston line will not begin this week due to ongoing technical issues, Deeside.com understands.

In April, Welsh Government-owned TfW told Deeside.com it was “aiming” to have its fleet of Class 230s enter service on the Borderlands Line from May, following three years of delays.

The move to phase in Vivarail’s hybrid diesel/battery units was to have coincided with this week’s timetable change increasing services on the line.

An early morning service from Bidston to Wrexham appeared on National Rail Timetables ahead of Sunday’s change.

The new 05.54 weekday service required the introduction of Class 230 trains on the line, but it was removed from journey planners last week and will not operate. The first train from Bidston on the Borderlands Line is now 07:31.

Additional evening trains between Wrexham and Bidston were also dependent on Class 230s being available as one of the two current Class 150 Sprinter trains comes off the line in the evening to work other services.

The 05:54 appears on National Rail Timetables but was removed from the National Rail journey planner last week.

Upcycled Tube Trains…

TfW has purchased five Class 230 trains which use the bogies and aluminium bodyshells of withdrawn London Underground trains.

They were first announced in 2018 with TfW initially stating they would be in service by mid-2019.

TfW only took delivery of units from Vivarail in July 2020 but staff training requirements were hampered by the Pandemic leading to further delays.

Other delays have been caused by “technical issues,” in July last year, training was temporarily suspended after a small fire on one of the units.

There have been a number of other issues including a battery-related one last month which again led to a suspension of the programme, Deeside.com understands.

Firefighters were called out to a ‘small fire’ on one of Transport for Wales’ new Class 230 trains in July last year

In April a TfW spokesperson told Deeside.com: “We are still aiming to have the Class 230 fleet enter into service on the Borderlands Line from May.”

“There were issues earlier in the year with the availability of drivers as a result of Covid (which have now been resolved), along with some technical issues affecting the units which have impacted the programme.”’

“However, we are working these through with Vivarail and are committed to bringing these trains into passenger service as soon as possible.”

Social media clues…

An indication that the new trains were not coming into service this month came during an exchange on Twitter between a TfW social media team member and @gareth71 who said:

“Will we finally see class 230s and a reliable, consistent, punctual service (without cancellations due to ‘lack of resources’) on the Borderlands Line?”

^Joe from TfW replied: “We are still working hard to bring the 230s into service.”

“We hope that they will be running in the next year.”

“We have also invested in other new trains that will improve our networks capacity and efficiency.”

@gareth71 replied: “Wow. 3 years late already, and still only ‘hopefully’ in the next year?”

“What is the delay? Acceptance? Training? (My question was re. Borderlands Line, so new trains elsewhere are irrelevant.)”

^Joe replied: “We are working hard to ensure that our 230s meet our standards of safety and comfort.”

“The Borderlands Line will receive new trains in the next year.” ^Joe added.

A spokesperson for Transport for Wales told Deeside.com said: “We will shortly be recommencing testing of the Class 230s, however this will not be completed in time for the trains to be introduced this month.

“We are committed to bringing these trains into passenger service as soon as possible and aim to introduce these trains onto the Wrexham-Bidston route later this year.”

Call for clearer communication…

The influential Wrexham Bidston Rail User Association (WBRUA) has said it was pressing TfW for more “timely and meaningful” updates regarding the new trains.

A WBRUA spokesperson told Deeside.com: “The WBRUA is disappointed to note that the class 230 trains for the Wrexham-Bidston line are not yet available for service.”

“Although the two train an hour service promised by TfW from December 2021 continues to be put back,  TfW were, until recently, planning to introduce some additional weekday trains with the new timetable from 15 May had the 230s been ready; these included an early morning 05.54 from Bidston to Wrexham Central and the daytime hourly service continuing into the evening. ”

“The WBRUA has been in regular discussion with TfW, with some successes in the past regarding the restoration of services after Lockdown, and remains hopeful that the 230s will  be successfully introduced in the coming months.”

“We are pressing TfW to provide more timely and meaningful updates regarding the new trains, asking that TfW will add additional services to the timetable at the earliest opportunity. ”

North Wales Metro…

It remains unclear if these ‘new’ trains mentioned by ^Joe in the Twitter exchange will be the long-awaited Class 230s.

There is speculation that TfW has either bought or leased a number of old Sprinter trains from another operating company to support the much-needed increase in services on the line.

A Class 150 between Shotton and Hawarden

As part of the £50m North Wales Metro programme to “transform rail, bus and active travel services” across the region,  the Welsh Government committed to increasing the number of trains on the Borderlands Line to two per hour from May 2022.

TfW website states: “Additional trains will be needed from May 2022 at the latest, we’ll be increasing the number of services on the Borderlands Line between Wrexham and Bidston to two per hour and this will include one all-stations service and one express service.”

However the introduction of a two train per hour service – which would require all five of the new Class 230 trains to operate – has also been hindered by objections from a freight operator.

GB Railfreight (GBRf), which operates freight trains into Hanson Cement near Penyffordd, formally objected to the additional passenger trains as they would conflict with new daytime freight traffic to and from Padeswood.

GBRf claims that the new freight traffic has to run at set times during the day and “blocks the northbound line between Penyffordd and Buckley for the best part of an hour due to the need to shunt in order to split trains going into the short sidings and combine them coming out.”

Photo: @Burbagefox1

An Office of Rail & Road spokesperson told Deeside.com “The two applications (TfW and GBRf) for use of capacity on the Borderlands Line are currently awaiting Network Rail completing some further timetabling work.”

“Network Rail will not have the necessary work completed in time for ORR to make its decision on granting of access in time for the May 2022 timetable change.”

TfW said: The introduction of two trains per hour on the Wrexham-Bidston route is dependent on the Office of Rail and Road’s adjudication and we must wait for their decision before making any further comment.”

Growth Track 360…

In the Queen’s Speech last week a new Transport Bill setting up Great British Railways was announced.

Growth Track 360, a cross-border alliance of business, political and public sector leaders called for “visionary investments” to transform the region’s rail network.

The group said they will be working with “Senedd Members and Members of the UK Parliament from all parties to secure its immediate objectives.”

They include, “the transformation of the Wrexham-Bidston line to permit direct running of metro frequency trains from Wales into Liverpool city centre, along with a new station at Deeside Industrial Park.”

“As an early step in this programme of improvements, Growth Track 360 will support a renewed bid by Flintshire Council to the UK Levelling Up Fund for development of Deeside Industrial Park station and track improvements to the Wrexham-Bidston line at the Padeswood cement terminal.”

Those improvements would potentially provide a long term solution to the freight issues that have been raised.

As for “metro frequency trains from Wales into Liverpool city centre,” battery-powered trains have been tested as part of plans to expand Liverpool City Region’s rail network.

Photo credit: Class 777 777010 – Kenilworth Road, Ainsdale. by Martyn Hilbert, on Flickr

Seven of Merseyrail’s new fleet of trains have been fitted with batteries which enable them to operate on tracks without a third electrified rail.

This capability means they could eventually provide a direct service from Liverpool through Flintshire to Wrexham.

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