Transport for Wales unveils ‘5 step plan’ it hopes will get the Wrexham to Bidston line back on track
Transport for Wales has published a 5-step plan it hopes will address issues with rail services on the Wrexham to Bidston line.
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 with reliability and adhering to the hourly timetable.
Earlier this month the Deputy Minister responsible for transport Lee Waters 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.”
Transport for Wales has now made a series of commitments under its ‘5 step plan’ which includes improving the reliability of the new Class 230 trains ‘through investment into the new depot at Birkenhead.”
TfW has also made a commitment to “keep all rail replacement [buses] to a minimum.”
James Price, Transport for Wales CEO said: “We understand the frustrations of passengers using the Wrexham to Bidston line over the past few months.”
“First the line lost its train service due to a safety issue with engines on our trains and this resulted in replacement buses running.”
“Following that, we introduced our refurbished Class 230 trains to the line and unfortunately, we’ve experienced teething problems and technical issues.”
“However, I’m happy to announce today that we now have a 5-step improvement plan in place that will focus on stabilising the reliability of our new trains and improving the service.”
“I’ve visited the new depot in Birkenhead that will allow us to carry out maintenance on our Class 230s at a faster pace and have assured myself that we are doing everything possible to see an improvement in the service over the coming months.”
North Wales and the Borders statement of commitments
- We will be appointing a dedicated route officer to delve deep into the issues on the line and develop a long term focus on performance and reliability
Transport for Wales will be committing a senior rail professional to provide a focus and coordination of the workstreams involved in delivering the first class reliable service users of the line deserve.
This role will be for an initial 3 month period from July to October and will involve creating close and productive relationships with local managers and teams, including Fleet, Drivers, Conductors, Train Planning, Control, Stations, Revenue Protection, Birkenhead North depot, On Train Cleaners, Performance, Facilities, Ops Readiness
This cross-functional role will develop a plan to encapsulate all the improvement initiatives designed to restore stability in service delivery.
The role will also involve developing relationships with local stakeholders, politicians, councillors and user group reps to keep them informed of what we are doing in conjunction with TfW stakeholder managers.
A high-level public improvement plan will then be developed and shared with stakeholders on a regular basis.
- We commit to delivering the maximum level of reliability to our Class 230 fleet and optimising the current provision
Our Route Officer will be working with front line teams to deliver clear engineering actions to improve reliability and availability of our Class 230 fleet. The five trains are dedicated to the line and were specifically purchased by the Welsh Government to serve the line and allow additional services.
Optimising the 1 train per hour service will encompass:
- (i) Managing our capability of delivering a fully functioning Class 230 on the line
- (ii) Working with our partners in Network Rail on our timetable access rights
- (iii) Improving driving styles and familiarity with the units amongst train crew so they are able to give the best performance and spot potential problems earlier.
We are currently running repairs and maintenance “in house” to address some technical challenges.
To this end we have invested in the depot facilities at Birkenhead North.
Using Birkenhead means the Class 230s no longer need to travel to Chester for maintenance and servicing.
We have put in place a manager and team of technicians working around the clock to deliver excellent maintenance to ensure we achieve the highest possible levels of reliability and improving our MTIN score (Miles Per Technical Incident).
Moving forward we will be considering longer term maintenance options both internal and with third party expertise to ensure highest levels of reliability, efficiency and value for our customers.
- We commit to keep all rail replacement to a minimum.
Recognising the impact of rail replacement on rural north Wales and the challenges this creates for customers, we commit to run a rail service wherever we possibly can.
When there are shortages of fleet in other areas we will consider very carefully the impact of reallocating trains and will only do so in exceptional circumstances. Our Route Officer will be walking in the shoes of customers to understand the impact of cancellations.
The officer will also work closely with our road transport provides for times where this use is unavoidable so we can make this a truly customer friendly service.
We will continue to review our processes and commit to ongoing engagement with the people who use the service.
- We will continually review our timetable with customers at the forefront
Our timetable and the services we run needs to meet the needs of as many of our customers and potential customers as possible. Working with stakeholders and customer groups, we commit to reviewing our services to ensure we have the right services calling at the right stations at the right times when planning what we run.
Calling patterns on key services will continue to be reviewed as customer needs and demands evolve.
As part of this commitment, our Route Officer will make recommendations on future timetables taking account the needs of users of the line as well as what we are confidently able to deliver for them for both the existing base 1tph service pattern and the future planned enhanced 2tph train plan.
Through our Route Officer, we will work even closer with Rail User Groups to develop further detailed plans, and to work up key metrics in collaboration.
- We commit to review our fares and ticketing across north Wales to make buying tickets and traveling as easy as possible.
Learning from customer feedback is vital especially around the ease and convenience of buying and using tickets and we commit to address the issues raised on the line alongside industry partners.
Increasingly we are seeing the public demand for mobile tickets, and we are investigating all options to make these as easy to use as possible when traveling into other transport regions in the area. We know there is a problem with using some of these mobile (M) tickets on the Mersey Rail network and we commit to working with our partners in that region to resolve this as quickly as possible.
Across Wales and the Borders we are partnering with Pay Zone to explore opportunities for people to buy a physical rail ticket in a local business. This gives added confidence in buying before you board and will also be an economic boost to local shops. We are committed to actively exploring these options on the line.
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