Posted: Fri 15th Dec 2023

North Wales Transport Commission’s final report offers key recommendations to transform rail travel in Deeside

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Friday, Dec 15th, 2023

A number of proposals and recommendations have been submitted to the Welsh Government that could transform rail travel in Deeside.

The North Wales Transport Commission has released its final report, which examines all aspects of travel across the region.

Established in March 2022 by ministers in Cardiff, this independent panel is chaired by Lord Burns, a former Chief Economic Advisor to HM Treasury.

Its task was to investigate the challenges, barriers, and prospects for developing a sustainable, integrated transport system in North Wales.

Emphasising a ‘multi-modal approach’, the commission has evaluated various areas of North Wales, striving to promote a transition from car use to alternative modes of transport in both urban and rural settings.”

The commission operates separately from the Welsh Government’s Roads Review, which led to the abandonment of major road infrastructure projects in North Wales.

This includes the controversial £300m Flintshire Red Route scheme aimed at alleviating traffic along the A494 in Deeside and the A55, a decision that faced criticism from all sides of the political spectrum.

The final report, published on Thursday, contains nearly 60 recommendations. They include a series of rail capacity improvements aimed at enhancing travel efficiency and connectivity across the region.

One recommendation put forward by the commission to the Welsh Government involves developing and implementing proposals at Shotton Station.

The goal is to create a “high quality and fully accessible interchange between the Borderlands Line and North Wales Main Line to improve active travel and public transport access.”

Last week, the UK Government announced it is providing £700,000 to Transport for Wales to study options for upgrading Shotton and Chester stations and increasing capacity on the North Wales Main Line.

The current station at Shotton provides access to both the Borderlands Line via the high-level platform and the North Wales Main Line via the low-level platform.

The platforms are separated by approximately 150m, with the Borderlands Line platforms being south of the rail line crossing point and the North Wales Main Line platforms being slightly west of the crossing point.

The connecting pedestrian route is sub-standard and without step-free access.

The commission said, “We understand that an options selection study has been completed to investigate solutions to address these connection and access issues.”

“The study identified two options, which would involve either relocating or extending the Shotton high-level platforms on the Borderlands Line further to the north.”

“Shotton station is in an urban area, and we do not support proposals that would increase car access and parking at the station.”

“We support better active travel and public transport access to the station, noting the demand for active travel movement over the railway line between Shotton High Street and Deeside Industrial Park.”

“These proposals would help moderate demand for car travel on Chester Road West (B5129) and the A494, which is a congested part of the road network.”

The estimated cost to deliver improved access at Shotton Interchange is around £40 million, with a further estimated cost of £18 million for the proposed active travel bridge.

Upgrades at Chester Station will enable the operation of five trains per hour, including one express service into North Wales.

A move which the commission says would pave the way for the electrification of the North Wales Main Line.

In October 2023, the Prime Minister announced a £1 billion investment for this purpose.

The phased electrification of the North Wales Main Line aligns with the broader infrastructure development plans.

The initial phase focuses on improving the infrastructure between Crewe and Llandudno Junction, subsequently extending to Bangor and Holyhead in subsequent phases.

In addition to these developments, the Padeswood Cement Works near Buckley Station is set to have its capacity constraints removed, a crucial step in enhancing the reliability of passenger services on the Borderlands Line.

The current freight traffic at the works restricts the service frequency along the line, with the main line often blocked for up to 40 minutes.

To alleviate this bottleneck, a £35 million investment is proposed to provide direct access to the sidings, incorporate more cement wagons, and optimise turnout speed.

This improvement is crucial for the planned increase in rail service frequency along the Borderlands Line to four trains per hour, including two direct trains to Liverpool.

However, Flintshire County Council’s applications for Levelling Up funding for this scheme were unsuccessful.

There is a pressing need for the Department for Transport and the Welsh Government to reconsider funding for this essential infrastructure improvement.

Heidelberg Materials (formerly Hanson), which operates the cement works, plans to invest approximately £400 million in a carbon capture facility, presenting an opportunity to collaborate and further increase rail freight movements.

The broader plan for the Borderlands Line, estimated to cost around £377 million, includes significant re-signalling to accommodate four trains per hour and line speed enhancements for improved performance.

Merseyrail

This investment would be transformative, creating direct access from Wrexham to Liverpool without the need for interchange at Bidston, cutting journey times to approximately one hour.

The report also highlights the integration of services between the Borderlands Line and the Merseyrail network, a strategic move to boost regional connectivity.

The commission supports the use of battery electric multiple units, a greener alternative to traditional rail transport.

Merseyrail’s introduction of the Class 777/1 Battery Electric Multiple Units offers a model for the Borderlands Line, ensuring seamless and environmentally friendly travel.

To facilitate this, charging points or sections of third rail electrification will be necessary along the Borderlands Line.

This collaborative effort between regional authorities and rail operators represents a crucial step towards modernising the rail network in North Wales, offering benefits such as reduced carbon emissions and improved passenger services.

Transport for Wales (TfW) introduced a new timetable this week, aiming to enhance the reliability of the service on the Wrexham to Bidston line by adjusting the frequency from hourly to every 45 minutes.

This adjustment increases the end-to-end journey time from 58 to 66 minutes, providing more flexibility in the schedule.

Initially, TfW plans to operate two of the new Class 197 trains alongside a troubled Class 230, which is set to undergo modifications to improve reliability. These include battery, air filter, and radiator enhancements.

New Station

Another key recommendation put forward to the Welsh Government is a new station proposed in Deeside Industrial Park, which will feature active travel and public transport access.

The proposed station, estimated to cost between £20-25 million, is positioned to significantly improve public transport access to one of the UK’s major employment hubs.

Located on the Borderlands Line between Hawarden Bridge and Neston stations, the new station will serve approximately 9,000 workers at Deeside Industrial Park.

The park is a national hub for advanced manufacturing, housing numerous industrial and logistics enterprises, as well as several power stations and a regional waste-to-energy plant.

The introduction of this station is seen as crucial to addressing the current public transport connectivity challenges faced by the park.

A large proportion of employees currently rely on car travel, contributing to recruitment and retention issues due to the lack of convenient public transport options.

The station is not just seen as a transport upgrade but also as a potential catalyst for sustainable commuting practices.

The report highlights the need to reconsider parking elements and enhance the area’s active travel network, including shuttle bus services.

This approach aims to encourage sustainable travel to and from the station, linking it to the nearby Garden City housing development and locations within the park.

The North Wales Transport Commission said it views the “Borderlands Line as a crucial link, offering direct connections between Wrexham and Liverpool, and to the North Wales Main Line at Shotton.”

“A proposed Deeside station would notably enhance job access from both areas. Achieving the line’s full capacity requires improved signalling, resolving Padeswood Cement Works access, and extending services to Liverpool. Merseyrail’s Class 777/1 battery electric units could play a key role in decarbonising these services.”

“Upgrades at Shotton station are vital for seamless interchange between lines.”

In total, the commission sets out 57 recommendations which span rail, buses, roads, and active travel across North Wales.

Responding to the report, Julie James, Minister for Climate Change said:

“We have now received the North Wales Transport Commission’s final report and recommendations.

“I extend our thanks to Lord Burns, the Commissioners, and the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales officials who supported them, for their comprehensive and considered reports.

“We will consider the recommendations in detail with the North Wales Corporate Joint Committee.

“The report provides a strong basis for the development of the Corporate Joint Committee’s Regional Transport Plan for North Wales as well as for taking forward our National Transport Plan.

“The Commission has built on the successful model of the South East Wales Transport Commission and North Wales Metro development work to provide a route map to modal shift through more efficient, high-quality transport connections across and into North Wales.

“The Commission sets out an ambitious set of proposals, which if implemented successfully will give people who live in North Wales and neighbouring areas new transport choices, with more opportunities to use quality public transport and active travel.

“Some of the proposals are within our devolved competence, and some are not.

“Naturally we welcome the electrification of the North Wales Main Line – an enhancement Welsh Government has long argued for. However, improving line speeds, unlocking capacity through Chester, and delivering improvements on the Wrexham-Bidston line will deliver more immediate benefits to passengers, as well as supporting modal shift and improving the business case for future electrification.

“We expect further development work to reinforce that and recognise the important role of the Wales Rail Board in agreeing rail funding priorities for Wales.

“We have therefore asked Transport for Wales to work collaboratively with Network Rail, the Department of Transport, and other stakeholders, to support the development work underway in response to the UK Government’s announcement.”

The Wrexham Bidston Rail User Association (WBRUA)  has welcomed the recommendations made by the North Wales Transport Commission.
A spokesperson said: “WBRUA has been calling for an improved service on the line together with a new station to serve Deeside Industrial Park for a number of years.”
“The Association believes that line speed improvements and improved access to Padeswood cement works should be viewed as a priority in order to achieve the long promised introduction of a half-hourly service between Wrexham Central and Bidston and would also like assurance that funding will be provided at the earliest opportunity for the new station.”

[Main photo: Class 197, taken at Hawarden Bridge by Arthur Growler – www.youtube.com/@arthurgrowler5749 ] ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

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