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LRT’s role in the Welsh rail revolution

Tram-train services could be running on streets of Cardiff by 2023. Image credit: TfW

KeolisAmey has unveiled bold plans for the Wales and Borders rail network and the development of the South Wales Metro, working in partnership with Transport for Wales. The 15-year franchise was formally announced on 4 June, following the end of a ten-day ‘standstill’ period in the procurement process.

KeolisAmey will take over from incumbent operator Arriva Trains Wales on 14 October 2018, and has already outlined a series of investments to 2025 that will see new rolling stock, enhanced services, station improvements and the introduction of smart ticketing initiatives. The plans include a new street-running line down to Cardiff Bay that will see tram-trains running in the city from 2023.

The joint venture already runs London’s Docklands Light Railway and Manchester Metrolink. Keolis is also part of the Tramlink Nottingham concessionaire, operator of Nottingham Express Transit.

The total planned expenditure is GBP5bn (EUR5.67bn) over 15 years, with GBP3.5bn (EUR3.97bn) allocated to an increased annual operating subsidy and GBP1.5bn (EUR1.7bn) on capital investment, weighted towards the first five years. This includes GBP800m (EUR906m) for new rolling stock to replace 95% of trains by 2023; half of these will be assembled at a new factory under-construction at Llanwern by Spanish manufacturer CAF. KeolisAmey will lease the new rolling stock.

A further five Vivarail three-car hybrid D-train units have been ordered for use on the Wrexham – Bidston, Conwy Valley and Chester – Crewe routes in North Wales, with the first deliveries beginning in early 2019 ahead of entry into service next summer.

The D-Train concept was launched in 2015 and uses the bogies and aluminium bodyshells of withdrawn London Underground D78 metro trains ‘upcycled’ with new traction packages (diesel-electric in the case of the North Wales units) and a range of customisable interior layouts.

KeolisAmey Mobilisation Director Colin Lea said the new trains would offer ‘a step-change in passenger comfort and service quality’ with seat-based power supplies, passenger Wi-Fi, bicycle spaces and toilets. GPS positioning will be used to switch from diesel to electric power in stations and sensitive areas.

A further GBP194m (EUR220m) is to be invested in station improvements, including new waiting rooms and toilets, digital information screens, free passenger Wi-Fi, covered cycle storage and monitored CCTV. Five new stations will also be created, four of which will be in central Cardiff (Gabalfa, Crwys Road, Loudoun Square and Flourish in Cardiff Bay).

By 2022 four tram-trains an hour are planned to run from the north of Cardiff, doubling the current service. Journey times will also be reduced by 10-15 minutes. From 2023 there will also be two services an hour from Merthyr to Cardiff Bay, with LRVs running on-street for the first time in more than 70 years. Five-minute headways from Pontypridd will also begin in 2023, underpinning the ‘turn-up-and-go’ nature of the new network.

An outline planning application for a new rolling stock depot in Taffs Well (around 10km/6.5 miles north of Cardiff) has already been submitted, including the full or partial demolition of existing structures on the site.

Further South Wales Metro developments include a fleet of 24 new ‘tri-mode’ trains (running on a combination of traction power drawn from overhead catenary, onboard battery storage and diesel engines) which will serve the links from Penarth, Barry and Bridgend, via the Rhymney Line.

The introduction of smart ticketing is promised to make fares more flexible and bring down prices; 2020 will see the introduction of many new off-peak fares and concessionary fares will be extended to 16-18 year olds. A new website and app will be created in the first year.

Six hundred new jobs will be created across the life of the franchise, including the introduction of 30 new apprenticeships each year.

KeolisAmey will now enter the preliminary design and discovery phase, a precursor to the transfer of around 190km (120 miles) of Network Rail-owned track assets to the Welsh Government.

Procurement for this ambitious project was overseen by Transport for Wales, an arms-length organisation of the Welsh Government. Arriva Trains Wales withdrew from the tender process in December 2017 and Dutch transport group Abellio pulled out in February after the collapse of its construction partner Carillion. This left just KeolisAmey and MTR Corp.

TfW Chief Executive James Price said this is a “once in a generation” chance to design a service to meet growing passenger numbers and expectations of more reliable services: “What we’ve had before was inherited. And many people will have experienced this on a day-to-day basis: turning up at a railway station and not being able to get on the train.

“That’s a pretty big disincentive to using it and if you can’t get into the centre of a city because the roads are congested as well, that’s not an incentive for getting work.”

Keolis UK Chief Executive Alistair Gordon added: “While the proposed changes won’t happen overnight, the railway will be unrecognisable in five years thanks to the vision of the Welsh Government.”

For more detail on the timetable of the enhancements, click: WB timetable