New trains could be operating through Flintshire from May but no green light for two an hour service
Transport for Wales (TfW) is aiming to bring a number of its new Class 230 trains into service on the Wrexham – Shotton – Bidston line next month, three years later than first planned.
However a two train per hour service promised by TfW from December 2021 is yet to be approved by the rail regulator due to an ongoing conflict with a freight operator.
The hybrid diesel/battery trains – which use the bogies and aluminium bodyshells of withdrawn London Underground trains – were first announced in 2018 with TfW initially stating they would be in service by mid-2019.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 have been hampered by the Covid-19 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
Some additional services are now showing on journey planners from mid-May, when national rail timetables change, these appear to be dependent on a number of Class 230s coming into service.
Passengers should start to see a mix of the new trains and the existing Class 150s next month on the line which services a number of Flintshire railway stations including Shotton, Hawarden and Buckley.
A Transport for Wales 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.”
The Wrexham Bidston Rail User Association (WBRUA) told Deeside.com the additional services from May 16 timetable change will require a Class 230 to start from Bidston in the early morning and 2 trains to remain on the line during the evening – “currently one of the Class 150s comes off the line in the evening to work other services.” A spokesperson said.
Rail freight operator objects
In November local business and council leaders urged the Office of Rail & Road (ORR) to authorise a proposed two trains per hour increase in passenger services on the Borderlands Line after a rail freight operator objected to the plans.
The increase is seen as a core part of the Welsh government’s North Wales Metro scheme but 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.
WBRUA said the promised two trains an hour service will require all five of the new Class 230s to be in service but this “can’t go ahead throughout the day until the issue with the conflict of additional freight traffic has been resolved.”
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.” The WBRUA said.
GBRf’s objection is now sitting with the ORR for a decision regarding track access despite the Department for Transport “clearly identifying a service of two train an hour on the Wrexham-Bidston line a few years earlier when it devolved the Wales and Borders Franchise to the Welsh Government.” The WBRUA said.
An ORR 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.
“When this work is complete and Network Rail has provided further information, ORR will then be in a position to complete its independent view of the use of capacity and make decisions on these applications.”
The WBRUA said it had previously responded to a planning application for improvements to rail traffic facilities at Padeswood, “welcoming the potential increased use of the railway.”
“WBRUA asks that any additional freight trains serving this facility are timed to run so as they have minimal impact on the operation and reliability of the current and any increased passenger train service on the Wrexham-Bidston line”.
A spokesperson said: “The Victorian era infrastructure associated with the Padeswood connection is the root of the problem and, if freight and a more frequent all day passenger service are to coexist during passenger hours, investment is needed.”
“A Levelling-Up bid for funding to address the connection into Padeswood together with Deeside Parkway and a Park-and-Ride Facility at Penyffordd was unsuccessful in the Autumn of 2021 and the WBRUA understands that an updated bid is going forward in the spring of 2022.” A WBRUA said.
In November last year, the leader of Flintshire Council, Cllr Ian Roberts said it is essential that “TfW’s plans to double the frequency of passenger services are implemented to provide an attractive alternative to the private car and open up employment opportunities throughout our cross-border community.”Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com