Service on Wrexham Bidston railway line has been “awful” admits Deputy Minister
A Deputy Minister has said it is “important” the Welsh government “faces the music” over criticism around the Wrexham to Bidston railway line as the situation for passengers in recent months has been “awful, and nobody’s pretending otherwise.”
Delays, cancellations, and overcrowding are just some of the reasons Lee Waters decided to take a trip on the Wrexham to Bidston line which serves a number of railway stations in Flintshire, including Shotton, Hawarden, and Buckley.
Mr Waters, the Deputy Minister responsible for transport said he wanted to experience the problems reported by passengers over recent months and “front up” to criticism.
On the train, he was able to learn more about the issues from members of the Wrexham-Bidston Rail Users’ Association (WBRUA).
The rail association has requested the line be handed to Merseyrail due to the Transport for Wales (TfW) ‘inability’ to deliver an acceptable service.
The WBRUA has also requested an independent review of TfW by the Welsh Government.
Mr Waters also discussed issues on the line with leaders of Flintshire and Chester and Cheshire West Council. He has now tasked TfW with developing a plan to improve the service.
Over recent months, passengers have been forced to use a slow bus replacement service due to the withdrawal of trains from the Borderlands Line.
This is due to trains on different lines being taken out of service following a series of fires, leaving TfW short of rolling stock.
New Class 230 trains have been introduced on the line but are struggling to adhere to the hourly timetable.
Mr Waters, expressed his commitment to acknowledging shortcomings and driving change, he said:
“It’s fair to say there have been numerous challenges for rail services in Wales in recent months, and the issues on this line have not been good enough.”
“We like to celebrate success, but it is also vital for us to acknowledge when things are not good enough.”
Speaking to Deeside.com, Mr Waters said: “It’s important we face the music because clearly, the situation on the Wrexham to Bidston line has been awful, nobody’s pretending otherwise.”
“It’s been a series of unfortunate events coming together.”
“We brought in newly refurbished trains (Class 230) from London Underground. They are really pleasant trains but have been slow to come online. We’ve had some difficulties, and we have not got the full fleet in service yet.” He said.
Mr Waters continued: “I really empathise with the people that use the line. The bus replacement is clearly a nightmare, and the trains are not where we need them to be. There’s no point trying to hide behind that; it’s just gone wrong.”
“I was keen, after receiving a pretty harsh letter from the rail user association, justifiedly so, to come up and face the music myself and speak to the local team, we accept this isn’t good enough.”
He said: “We are working hard to try and make things better quickly. We have new trains coming on stream, but they have been delayed.”
“Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, but it will get better. We will have a reliable service on the Wrexham Bidston line, hopefully by the end of the year.”
Mr Waters said the Welsh government will develop a “five-point plan” in conjunction with WBRUA and local representatives, “so we can hold TfW’s feet to the fire on performance.”
Class 777 train
A transport commission set up by the Welsh Government has recommended using new Merseyrail trains on the Wrexham to Bidston Line.
The North Wales Transport Commission, set up by ministers in Cardiff, is chaired by Lord Burns, a former Chief Economic Advisor to HM Treasury.
It is currently examining the issues, obstacles, and opportunities associated with creating a sustainable, integrated transport system in North Wales.
The Commission has suggested that the Borderlands Line could be significantly improved if Merseyrail’s battery iteration of its new Class 777 train could run from Liverpool to Wrexham, offering a potential boost for the region’s rail infrastructure.
“This aligns with Network Rail’s decarbonisation strategy, which identified the Borderlands Line as suitable for battery-operated trains instead of full electrification,” a report published last week stated.
On Merseyrail taking over the Wrexham Bidston line, Mr Waters said: “I honestly don’t think the problem here is TfW.”
“I believe any rail company in the world would have struggled with the situation they’ve had to face.”
“The company (Vivarail) we bought the trains from (Class 230s) went bust, but the trains have not been performing as they should have been.”
“We’ve now got some of their staff, we have brought maintenance in-house, we have a depot in Birkenhead, and performance is improving all the time.”
“TfW is bending over backwards to get this right. So, those who point to TfW as the bogey man and say it is all their fault, that it would be better if somebody else ran the line, I just don’t think that stands up to scrutiny. But, I completely understand why they say that because the service has been so poor.”
“What we think is the right answer is to do it jointly with Merseyrail and use their battery technology trains. We’ve got a good relationship with them, politics and the border will not get in the way of this.”
Jan Chaudhry-Van der Velde, TfW Managing Director added: “It’s been a frustrating few months for passengers on the Wrexham – Bidston line.
“First, the line lost its train service, with replacement buses running, due to the withdrawal of a significant part of our train fleet caused by engine safety problems.
“This led to an extensive repair programme being required. This was followed by the introduction of refurbished Class 230 trains on the route, which have seen teething problems with rolling stock technical issues and poor timekeeping.
“We apologise to passengers on the line for these problems.
“We are putting in place a series of initiatives to get the line back to a reliable train service, focusing on stabilising the new rolling stock reliability and train crew familiarisation in the first instance.
“Once this is accomplished, we can start to plan a higher frequency service.
“The refurbished Class 230 trains represent a step improvement in train quality for the line, and we are confident they will deliver the aspirations of stakeholders and customers as we work through the plan.” Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com