Office of Rail and Road offers clarity as councillor blasts them for ‘red tape’ over Wrexham to Bidston line
The Office of Rail and Road have said they are making a ‘delicate balancing act to determine the best overall outcome’ as they resolve a dispute over the Wrexham to Bidston railway.
Known as the Borderlands Line, it connects the Wirral with North East Wales and serves eight Flintshire stations from Hawarden Bridge to Cefn-y-Bedd.
Wrexham Council have published a statement from Cllr David A Bithell, Lead Member for Environment and Transport, who they say “voiced his concerns that despite promises for better rail links between Wrexham and Bidston red tape has now left the plans for 2 trains per hour up in the air” as part of a wider hammering of the ‘North Wales Metro’.
The statement titled “North Wales Metro not delivering for Wrexham” added, “The Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR) is arbitrating between Transport for Wales and a freight company in Penyffordd who runs trains over the railway line.”
The ORR economic regulators, and regulate health and safety for the entire mainline rail network in Britain.
Cllr David A Bithell said, “It appears that the ORR are trying to resolve a dispute who has preference to run trains on the line which I find unbelievable and frustrating as promises were made that by May 2022 Wrexham would have two trains per hour.
“On one hand we are told that improvements on the A483 is being delayed for a roads review and now that freight trains have preference over passengers. We are also actively encouraged to promote and support using public transport and Active Travel schemes.”
Cllr Bithell added, “The rail network runs 24 hours and urged the ORR to find a solution with Transport for Wales and has asked local MPs to lobby UK Secretary of State Grant Shapps to intervene.
“I have also written to Lesley Griffiths MS and Sarah Atherton MP for Wrexham urging them to make representation.”
Speaking to our sister site Wrexham.com, the Office of Rail and Road pointed out that was their actual name, rather than the “Office of the Rail Regulator” as mentioned by the statement from the council – after being renamed back in 2015.
If a railway operator wants to access the railway network, they have to apply for a track access agreement with Network Rail. In this case Network Rail has refused access for both the additional passenger and freight services.
Parties can appeal decisions to ORR under Part M of the Network Code and ORR acts on these appeals to consider whether it be wrong, unjust, or correct.
A spokesperson from the ORR said, “We make sure both passenger and freight operating companies have fair access to the rail network 24/7 – and that best use is made of capacity. In this case, Network Rail has refused to agree access contracts for Transport for Wales and the freight operating company for additional services and both parties have appealed to ORR to help determine whether refusal was correct or if Network Rail should enter into an agreement with either party.”
“We are currently undertaking this review and will make a decision in due course, but we know that all rail users in North Wales deserve to have this decision properly scrutinised in order to achieve the best outcome for everyone.”
The ORR explained to Wrexham.com that they were aware that the section of the railway is heavily used serving both passenger services in North Wales and freight services, which support the cement works at Penyfford and the ORR needed to understand whether the infrastructure manager is correct in questioning whether this section of the network “has the capacity required to support all aspirations for rail users”.
In the meantime, Network Rail has taken the decision to permit certain freight services to operate on a short-term basis without selling long term firm rights and he freight services are likely to continue to run in this way for the time being.
We asked ORR about timeframes for the decision, and if there was an unusual delay on this matter. ORR told us, “We are currently engaged in the process of reviewing this issue. This involves receiving representations from TfW, GBRf and NR. With complex cases like this, a decision may take longer and there may be a delicate balancing act to determine the best overall outcome in line with our statutory duties.”
“In line with our statutory duties where we have to consider both freight and passenger services alongside operational performance and of course, safety. It is part of a wider timebound process which enables operators to run services on the rail network.”
With the statement also referring to delays on the A483 junction for a ‘road review’ we asked Wrexham Council what they had been told on the delays, when the review will take place and when it is due to report.
Cllr Bithell said, “The road review on preferred route is being reviewed by the Welsh Government Independent Panel. A decision is expected in June.”
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