New trains, investment in infrastructure and hundreds of additional staff have been promised in the new 15-year Wales and Borders franchise.
KeolisAmey, the same partnership which runs Manchester Metrolink and Docklands Light Railway, will take over the franchise later this year from Arriva Trains Wales as the Operator and Development Partner (ODP) – a new kind of combined operator and infrastructure manager.
MTR was the only other bidder left in the running after Arriva and Abellio both withdrew their bids. Abellio’s decision was prompted by the collapse of its infrastructure partner, Carillion, in January this year.
The new operator will work closely with Transport for Wales (TfW), which was given greater powers by the Department for Transport to shape the specification for the new franchise, to deliver the Welsh government’s vision for a new South Wales Metro.
The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, and transport secretary Ken Skates officially announced the new contract and disclosed a detailed franchise brief at the Railway Training Centre at Coleg y Cymoedd, Nantgarw, on 4 June.
Wales will benefit from £5 billion worth of investment in its rail network over the life of the new franchise, according to the Welsh government, including £800 million for new trains – half of which will have to be assembled in Wales.
The average age of trains on the Wales and Borders route is 27 years old. Under the new franchise deal, 95 per cent of journeys will be made on brand new trains by 2023. KeolisAmey has revealed that its new fleet will include tri-mode trains for services from Penarth, Barry and Bridgend to destinations north of Cardiff Central.
CAF, which is currently building a new site in Newport, has confirmed that it has been chosen as the preferred bidder to supply new vehicles for the franchise. More details are expected to be announced later this month. Vivarail has also been selected to supply five of its Class 230 D-Trains.
Richard Garner, CAF’s UK director, said: “We are delighted to have been selected by KeolisAmey as the preferred bidder to supply vehicles for the Wales and Borders rail franchise. “We look forward to working with the company and playing our part in its commitment to transforming the railway and supporting the growth of the local economy and improving the environment. Our high-quality, reliable and comfortable vehicles will enhance customer experience across this important rail network.”
As well as the huge financial investment in infrastructure and rolling stock, the announcement describes a raft of additional services and improvements for passengers, including smart ticketing, and by December 2023, an additional 285 services will run each weekday – an increase of 29 per cent.
As well as free Wi-Fi on 85 per cent of journeys by 2024, Sunday services will be increased by 61 per cent, with an additional 294 services to be introduced, creating a seven-day-a-week service.
Alistair Gordon, chief executive of Keolis UK, said: “We are excited about the transformation we’re going to deliver here in Wales, working alongside Amey once again and in partnership with Transport for Wales.
“For too long the railways in Wales have suffered from under investment and, while the changes we need to make will take time, we are creating a platform for future economic growth and prosperity that will benefit all of Wales now and for generations to come.
“In five years’ time, the railway will be unrecognisable from what it is today thanks to the vision of the Welsh Government. We can’t wait to get started.”
An extra 600 members of staff will be recruited – 200 of which will be on-train customer service staff – to deliver the additional services and 30 apprenticeships will be created each year over the duration of the franchise. Keolis UK plans to move its headquarters from London to Wales by 2019, and its global rail division from Paris to Wales by 2020.
Seven new community rail partnerships, which will employ around 30 ambassadors, will be established as well.
Andy Milner, Amey’s chief executive, said: “This is a great opportunity for us to use our joint capabilities to deliver a first-rate service for Wales and its communities. As well as creating new jobs and apprenticeship opportunities, we will be focused on upgrading the existing infrastructure and introducing new trains to significantly improve the passenger experience.
We are looking forward to working with Transport for Wales in a partnership which will see the full replacement of all trains, and major upgrades.
“We are also looking forward to working with the very proud and dedicated men and women running the railway in Wales today, who will join us on this exciting journey.”
South Wales Metro
The announcement provided further details about the South Wales Metro proposals. KeolisAmey suggested that new light rail connections on the Core Valley Lines will form part of the proposals, which will primarily focus on reducing journey times and increasing service frequency.
At least four new light rail stations will be built in Cardiff (Gabalfa, Crwys Road, Loudoun Square and the Flourish) as part of the new Metro system and a £194 million fund will be used to upgrade the existing 247 stations around the network.
Outside Cardiff, £738 million will be spent electrifying and upgrading the valley lines to Treherbert, Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhymney and Coryton.
The Welsh government is also looking to follow the Dutch railway’s lead and use only renewable energy sources to power its overhead line electrification and stations.
Carwyn Jones said: “The way we shaped this procurement was different. We put passengers’ priorities at the centre of our thinking and threw out a challenge to all of the bidders to address the concerns they had about seat capacity, journey times and service frequency.
“People said they wanted affordable fares and newer, cleaner trains and we have worked hard to ensure this is reflected in what we are launching today.
“This is a chance not simply to build a modern, forward-looking transport system, but to use it as an important tool to shape the life of the nation around us.”