Posted: Wed 28th Jun 2023

First Minister Concedes: Transport for Wales’ rail service falls short of acceptability

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Jun 28th, 2023

First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has conceded rail services provided by Transport for Wales (TfW) “are not up to the standard that passengers expect.”

The issue arose in response to questions from Rhun ap Iorwerth MS in the Senedd on Tuesday. He detailed his own travel woes, stating he had ‘not seen Bangor station platform at 3 o’clock in the morning before’ due to TfW problems and asked the First Minister, “When I and others in this Senedd raise our frustrations about transport, a flood of people voice their own concerns about delays and cancelled trains. This includes a couple in their eighties from my constituency recently, who had to stand for two hours without access to a toilet on the train from the north to the south. Does the First Minister think that the current rail service offered by Transport for Wales is acceptable?”

The First Minister replied, “No, I don’t, and nor does the Minister (Lee Waters). The Minister recently stated that the challenges facing Transport for Wales mean that the service provided in some parts of Wales has not been up to the standard that passengers expect. This is why the Deputy Minister has been meeting with rail users, particularly in those places where difficulties have been the greatest, to hear directly from those passengers, and to work with them and others to improve the service available in Wales.”

“There are several reasons for the difficulties experienced. Travel patterns have altered since the pandemic – this is true for railways as well as bus services, as we have discussed here in the Senedd. The rail industry everywhere is coping with changes in passenger numbers on one hand and reduced investment by the UK Government on the other. This is why passengers in his part of the world, on the north Wales coast, have recently had their mainline services cut by Avanti West Coast, which itself puts additional pressure on those local services provided by Transport for Wales.”

Rhun ap Iorwerth MS retorted, “I’m pleased that the First Minister admits that there is a problem – it’s quite obvious there is a problem. It’s good to hear that the Deputy Minister also admits things aren’t good enough. My worry is the trajectory we’re on. These are serious issues: four in 10 trains in Wales delayed, with the latest 12-month figures showing a deteriorating picture. We should be able to expect things to improve. In April, I believe, the independent watchdog Transport Focus described the situation as untenable, calling on Transport for Wales to put a robust plan in place outlining how they’ll restore services and get things back on track for passengers.”

“When Transport for Wales took over from Arriva in 2018, they promised a transformed rail service within five years. Now, five years have passed; it clearly hasn’t happened. When can passengers expect to see genuine and sustained improvements in the service?”

The First Minister responded, “I don’t want to give the impression that there will be an easy path to those improvements. As we’ve discussed in the Senedd recently, Network Rail have published an investment prospectus that places Wales at the very bottom of the investment league. They themselves say this will lead to greater cancellations and more delays in the future. That is the challenging context within which Transport for Wales operates.”

Borderlands Line

Locally, rail services, particularly on the Wrexham-Bidston line, seem to have significantly deteriorated in recent weeks.

Transport for Wales has acknowledged the criticisms and committed to improvement, promising to resolve technical issues with the new Class 230 trains, which have been struggling with reliability and timekeeping. Following a recent train journey on the Wrexham Bidston line, Lee Waters MS, the Deputy Minister responsible for transport, said it was “important” for the Welsh government to “face the music” over the criticism surrounding the rail line’s current state.

Waters and senior staff in Transport for Wales management have initiated dialogue with local stakeholders including Growth Track 360, a public-private partnership uniting North Wales, the Wirral and Cheshire West and Chester, and Wrexham-Bidston Rail Users’ Association (WBRUA).

Waters revealed the Welsh government is developing a “five-point plan” to improve the Borderlands Line. The train operator also committed to enhancing passenger information services, ticket purchasing options, and managing Rail Replacement Bus Services more efficiently.

The WBRUA said it will maintain dialogue with Waters and remains open to any input regarding pressure that can be applied to “improve one of the worst-performing train routes in the country.” A spokesperson stated, “The Five-Point Plan, due after the WBRUA’s meeting with the Minister on 13th June, is not yet available, and we are eager to see it. We hope this Plan will have clear and measurable deliverables, with defined timescales for such delivery.”

Growth Track 360 Vice Chair and Leader of Flintshire Council, Councillor Ian Roberts, said:

“I welcome Transport for Wales’ commitment to restoring timely train services. This involves resolving outstanding technical issues with the new Class 230 trains, dedicating the Class 230 fleet to the Borderlands Line, and working with drivers, guards, and maintenance staff to operate the new Class 230 stock to their full capability.”

“Once Transport for Wales have restored hourly trains that run on time, they plan to introduce a new, hourly limited-stop service. Alongside the existing hourly service, this will offer half-hourly services and accommodate freight services on the Line.”

Additionally, Transport for Wales committed to enhancing information services for passengers, increasing ticket purchase options, and improving the management of Rail Replacement Bus Services, which they aim to minimise due to their unsuitability for the line and the local road network.

“These commitments provide a platform for restoring confidence in Transport for Wales’ ability to enhance its services in the future.”

Ashley Rogers, GT360 Business Representative and Chief Executive of the North Wales Mersey Dee Business Council, said:

“Performance on the Borderlands Line, measured by punctuality and cancellations, significantly underperforms average performance for both Transport for Wales and the UK.”

“The recognition that services have not been good enough enables close collaborative working between the Welsh Government, Transport for Wales and local stakeholders to improve services.”

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