New train type spotted on Wrexham to Bidston line being tested to see if “capable of operating” on route
A brand new train type was put through its paces on the Wrexham to Bidston line on Tuesday prompting further speculation that the much-delayed Class 230 trains may never come into service on the route.
The two-car Class 197 unit was spotted on Tuesday as Transport for Wales (TfW) carried out a compatibility ‘run’ on the Borderlands Line.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has authorised the passenger use of 30 two-car and 12 three-car TfW class 197 trains whoch are built by CAF and assembled in Newport.
They are due to come into service this year on long-distance routes throughout the Wales and Borders network, serving destinations “as varied as Holyhead, Fishguard and Liverpool” TfW has said.
To date, there has been no mention from the train operator about the potential for Class 197s to be deployed onto the Wrexham – Bidston line.
TfW purchased five Class 230 trains – which use the bogies and aluminium bodyshells of withdrawn London Underground trains – in 2018 for use on the line which serves a number of Flintshire stations including Shotton, Hawarden and Buckley.
The intention was to bring the new hybrid diesel/battery units 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 “technical issues,” in July last year, training was temporarily suspended after a small fire on one of the units.
TfW had hoped to bring the Class 230 units into operation on the Wrexham to Bidston this month but a further battery-related ‘thermal’ incident in April led to the implementation programme being suspended.
There’s been recent 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.
As part of the £50m North Wales Metro programme to “transform rail, bus and active travel services” across the region, the Welsh Government originally committed to increasing the number of trains on the Borderlands Line to two per hour from May 2022.
That move has been hindered by the issues with the Class 230 units and 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.
The introduction of two trains per hour on the Wrexham-Bidston route is dependent on an Office of Rail and Road’s adjudication.
The Class 197s are being phased in across the TfW network to eventually replace old rolling stock on the Cambrian and Conwy Valley lines and will allow extension of services between Liverpool Lime Street to Chester into both north and south Wales.
The 197s could be used to increase capacity on the Wrexham to Bidston line and some transport watchers have even suggested the Class 230 programme could be scrapped.
TfW has however said it remains “committed” to bringing the 230s into passenger service “as soon as possible.”
On Tuesday’s Class 197 sighting, a spokesperson for Transport for Wales said: “To give maximum fleet flexibility our appointed manufacturer CAF is contractually committed to ensuring the Class 197s are capable of operating on all TfW routes – with the exception of the Core Valley Lines in South Wales – and therefore a run was carried out on Tuesday to confirm compatibility on the Wrexham – Bidston route.”
“Full details of where they will operate in the future will be released in due course.”
On the current situation with the Class 230 trains, TfW told Deeside.com: “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.”
“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.”
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