Posted: Thu 30th Nov 2023

Wrexham-Bidston line boosted with new Class 197 ‘made in Wales’ trains

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Thursday, Nov 30th, 2023

New trains are being introduced on the Wrexham-Bidston railway line as Transport for Wales (TfW) aims to enhance the underperforming service.

This morning, for the first time, a Class 197 diesel multiple-unit entered service, debuting without any prior announcement from TfW.

Assembled by CAF at their Newport factory, the first of the 77 Class 197 trains, proudly displaying its ‘Made in Wales’ tag, commenced service in November last year.

TfW has confirmed to that, starting December 10, two of the new trains will join one Class 230 train on the Wrexham Central to Bidston line.

This addition will increase the train frequency to one every 45 minutes, improving from the current hourly service.

However, today’s first outing saw the Class 197 depart Wrexham Central 12 minutes late and arrived at Bidston 18 minutes behind schedule.

The introduction of these trains is expected to phase out the 1980s-built Sprinter trains, which have been supplementing the service on the line as TfW works to resolve issues with its Class 230 upcycled former London tube trains.

The Class 230s, a fleet of five hybrid diesel/battery trains, utilise the bogies and aluminium bodyshells of retired London Underground trains.

TfW purchased them for the Wrexham to Bidston line to fulfil a short-term goal of increasing the number of services on the line, aiming eventually to offer a half-hourly service.

These trains were initially planned to be in service by 2019 but faced delays due to the pandemic and technical challenges.

TfW ultimately introduced the Class 230s on the Borderlands Line – a critical route through Flintshire to Wrexham and the Wirral – in early April this year.

However, the Class 230s have encountered reliability issues and have struggled to maintain the hourly timetable.

[First run out today for a Class 197, captured here at Hawarden Bridge by Arthur Growler – ]

The performance of the line became a focal point in June this year when TfW released a ‘5-step plan’ it hoped would resolve the service issues between Wrexham and Bidston.

At the time, Deputy Minister responsible for transport Lee Waters stated it was “important” for the Welsh government “to face the music over criticism around the Wrexham to Bidston railway line, as the situation for passengers had been “awful, and nobody’s pretending otherwise.”

In November 2022, the rail regulator approved the increase of passenger train services on the Wrexham to Bidston railway line, an integral part of the £50m ‘North Wales Metro’ programme.

This programme aimed to transform rail, bus, and active travel services across the region; however, it appears to have been quietly shelved.

The Welsh Government had previously committed to increasing the number of trains on the Borderlands Line to two per hour from May 2022.

However, there was a conflict in applications for capacity on the line between Transport for Wales Rail Limited (TfWRL) and GB Railfreight Limited (GBRf), as initially accommodating both was not feasible.

TfW currently operates an hourly passenger service, while GBRf uses the line for freight services to Deeside and Avonmouth from the Padeswood Cement Works.

Network Rail’s capacity analysis initially rejected both applications, prompting GBRf and TfWRL to seek a decision from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR). The ORR conducted an independent review, considering the line’s capability, operational issues, and a cost-benefit analysis.

The ORR’s decision authorised TfW to run two passenger trains per hour on the line.

This decision was welcomed as beneficial for both passengers and the local area, also aiding freight services.

The continuation of freight trains serving Padeswood cement works was confirmed, with each freight train equivalent to removing 36 HGVs from roads, offering environmental benefits.

Speaking last week, TfW’s Planning and Performance Director Colin Lea said: “We’re delighted to be introducing new services on key routes in both the north and south of our network in this timetable period.

“In Wrexham and Deeside, it gives more choice and better reliability on the Borderlands line to Bidston, while the full return of Liverpool-Chester services is now possible following completion of crew training on our new trains.

“The most important thing is to please check your travel details before you travel.”

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