Posted: Mon 27th Mar 2023

Transfer Wrexham Bidston Line to Merseyrail says rail user group after weeks of disruption

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Mar 27th, 2023


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An influential rail user group has expressed significant concerns regarding the management and operation of the Wrexham-Bidston line by Transport for Wales (TfW) and has said it should be handed over to Merseyrail.

The Wrexham Bidston Rail User Association (WBRUA) held a committee meeting on 24th March, and unanimously agreed that TfW is incapable of delivering an acceptable service on the line and is urging the Welsh Government to initiate an independent review. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

WBRUA has said Merseyrail would be better placed toi provide a reliable service than TfW which is “both South Wales based and focussed.” 

Rail passengers in Flintshire wanting to travel between Wrexham or the Wirral are having to endure an inconvenient and slow bus replacement service that takes twice as long as trains. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The trains which usually run on the Borderlands Line have been withdrawn and sent to service other lines outside of the region. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

This is because many TfW Class 175 trains have been taken out of service across the Wales and Borders network following a spate of fires that plagued the trains. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​ ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

There have been three fires involving Class 175 trains in recent weeks. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

TfW said last week that maintenance checks have found that some of the trains need further repairs to the engines before they come back into passenger service.

As a result, disruption to passenger services is likely to continue into early April.

Jan Chaudhry-Van der Velde, Chief Operations Officer at TfW, said: “The safety of our customers and colleagues remains our top priority.

“Our Class 175 trains will not be allowed into passenger service again until each train has had its engines checked and repaired, and has passed the relevant safety inspections.”

“This programme of work is happening as we speak, at Chester depot, where these trains are maintained on our behalf by CAF Rail UK. ”

“An initial supply of materials is available for the repair programme, and further parts are being sourced from overseas to speed up the process.”

“The position will improve each week, and the completion of the repair programme is expected to go into April.”

“Whilst this leaves us with a temporary shortage of rolling stock, other fleets are being spread out across the Wales and Borders network, and timetables have been adjusted to try and impact the fewest number of passengers.”

2018… 

‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍Since TfW took over the Wrexham-Bidston line in 2018, there have been numerous service suspensions due to train maintenance issues and staffing problems.

The most recent suspension has forced passengers to find alternative transport methods, impacting the local economy and road congestion.

Additionally, TfW has been criticised for its lack of clear communication with passengers, leading to widespread dissatisfaction and frustration.

A WBRUA said in a statement: “The rail replacement bus service for the Wrexham-Bidston line takes twice as long as the train.”

“The ongoing lack of train service forces those who use it to find alternatives (in many cases, their cars) whilst undermining their confidence in rail it and is almost certainly impacting on the local economy as well as worsening the congestion on our roads.”

“TfW has refused to post rail replacement bus timetables at stations notwithstanding numerous requests from the WBRUA, and recent observations indicate that the buses are running with very few passengers on board and would-be passengers are still being found waiting on station platforms due to the lack of clear information!”

The WBRUA has highlighted a case of a person having to change employment due to the unreliability of the service.

Testing and driver training on the troubled Class 230 trains is back underway following a number of suspensions

The introduction into service of new rolling stock by TfW has been an unacceptably protracted affair.

TfW  bought five hybrid diesel/battery Class 230 which are made from refurbished London tube trains. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

They were intended to come into service in 2019 but TfW only took delivery of units from Vivarail in July 2020. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Staff training requirements were hampered by the Pandemic leading to further delays. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

Other delays have been caused by what TfW called “thermal incidents” which included a small fire on one of the units due to overheating batteries. ‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌​

TfW has said it intends to bring them into service this year, four years later than planned

The WBRUA said: “The trains’ manufacturers Vivarail assured the WBRUA over six months ago that all technical issues had been resolved. On the one hand, TfW appears to have neglected the maintenance of their 175 fleet and yet seems to be unduly risk-averse regarding the Class 230s.”

“Had the Class 230s and more 197s been in service by now (as per TFW’s original plan), the loss of 175s would not be as critical.”

The WBRUA suggests that this situation could have been avoided with more effective management of its rolling stock assets by TfW.  “Unfortunately, this is yet another item on an increasing list of failures to deliver what was promised and expected.”

The WBRUA statement goes on to say: “Significant public money has been spent without the benefits from the investment being realised in a timely manner.”

“Ticket revenue is continuously being undermined.  The impact on TfW’s bottom line must be significant.”

“Furthermore, the shortlisting of non-electrified routes to be worked by the new battery-electric Class 777s recently introduced by Merseyrail is dependent upon, among other things, passenger demand.”

“While bodies like the Liverpool City Region and GrowthTrack 360 (GT360) are appreciating the value of the Wrexham-Bidston line, the failures on the part of TfW are in danger of making the route appear an unattractive investment as revenue plummets.”

The rail user group said: “All the foregoing points to a complete failure of Senior Management at TfW.”

“The WBRUA believes that the Welsh Government should instigate an independent review of TfW to determine where the root cause of the problems lie and what needs to be done to rectify the situation.”

In the meantime as a minimum, the Welsh Government should be demanding reassurances from TfW that it is exploring all options for returning regular passenger services to the Wrexham-Bidston line as soon as humanly possible.”

“There is already a chorus of voices saying that the Wrexham-Bidston line should be transferred to another operator – such as Merseyrail – with a better focus on the Mersey-Dee region rather than remain with TfW which is both South Wales based and focussed.” 

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