Published: 23rd October 2016
Transport for Wales (TfW) has announced their four shortlisted bidders for the next Wales and Borders franchise. Except the winner will become an operating partner of the Welsh Government where service quality and connectivity will be the key criteria. TfW’s main scheme ‘Metro’ will they say bring benefits to passengers, link communities together and help transform the economy. It will have a positive social, economic and environmental effect. It will also shape our region's identity.
At least four services an hour are envisaged across the network when needed and more on busy sections which traditionally has meant passengers do not need a timetable and simply ‘turn up and travel’. Trains will be high capacity and have a good performance characteristics.
Metro will combine all modes of travel, heavy rail, light rail and buses to deliver a seamless network using one ticket, like London’s Oyster card. Public transport services will connect with what TfW call ‘active travel’ – cycling and walking – to create a completely integrated network.
The Metro system will be designed to be able to grow with new stations, routes and increased frequencies boosting the local economy. This in turn will help regenerate the area adjacent to stations and stimulate opportunities for more strategic development across the region.
Four bidders have been shortlisted for the next Wales & Bor¬ders franchise which is to be let by the Welsh government in the form of a management contract. The eventual operator chosen will be known as the 'Operator & Development Partner' and will be a not for profit contract rather than being let as a franchise by the Department for Transport (DfT). The bidders are:
Abellio Rail Cymru;
Arriva Rail Wales/Rheilffyrdd Arriva Cymru Ltd;
MTR Corp (Cymru) Ltd;
Arriva Trains Wales are the current franchise operators, awarded by the DfT to the DB subsidiary until 2018. It is all change now the change being managed by the Welsh Government who want to create an integrated public transport network especially in the Cardiff Valleys.
The short listed bidders will be able to suggest their plans to the Welsh Government who unlike the DfT, is allowing flexibility into the proposals to be negotiated for the contract which will last 15 years from 2018 to 2033. Bidders can bid to make infrastructure improvements which will be designed to last far longer than the contract length to be used after 2033 so real long-term planning can take place.
Bidders are required to show how they would improve the South Wales Metro concept including the key aim of better multi-modal connectivity. Under this process, negotiations could see the lines being traditionally electrified, operated as tram-trains, trams which could also run on roads as with the Manchester and Blackpool networks.
Bids and negotiations will be assessed by Transport for Wales (TfW) part of the Welsh Government, to see which proposals match their ambitions. Cardiff queen Street might mark the boundary between the Network Rail network and the Welsh Government‘s network to be operated by the winning bidder who would also maintain the routes. This would in essence create a nationalised rail network but using other infrastructure delivery partners to build or alter track and signalling and carry out maintenance which until Brexit is completed, is a European Law requirement.
As the expected new rail infrastructure options may not be suitable for existing trains, all now over 25 years old in the Valleys, bidders will need to look at suitable traction and rolling stock to accompany their revised infrastructure plans. The whole network will be operated as with Transport for London on a not for profit basis so far as expecting a premium payment from the operator is concerned as with DfT-let franchises.
Economy and Infrastructure Secretary Ken Skates said:
I am pleased with the way we are taking forward our ambitious plans to transform rail services in Wales. The new Wales and borders service from 2018 and the next phase of the Metro are part of an ambitious and creative not for profit model that we are building for Welsh rail. The rail network will be managed by Transport for Wales.
We now have four highly skilled, experienced companies entering the next, competitive phase and I am keen to hear more from them about what they can offer Wales and how they can deliver on our plans for integrated public transport.
Over the next 10 years I envisage significant strides in the delivery of our public transport network including the electrification of the Swansea, Valleys and North Wales lines, a South and North Wales Metro and widespread structural improvements that are already in the pipeline.
The priorities for the next franchise will include updated rolling stock, reduced journey times and the use of modern technology and approaches to deliver an improved service for passengers across Wales.
I’m confident that we are putting the building blocks in place to deliver on our ambition and I look forward to working with these bidders in developing a high quality integrated public transport system for Wales.
What will score well in the bids is service quality and effectiveness combined while still considering the balance sheet. Again, as with TfL,TfW is likely to manage stations, ticketing, marketing and car parks and other revenue streams. The Welsh Government did not receive any serious interest from not-for profit organisations and the DfT did not allow a public sector bid which would be illegal under UK law.
There has been much wrangling over who should fund electrification of Valley lines with the welsh authorities saying that Westminster has pledged the cash. They are also applying for EU funding which will obviously now be at serious risk given the timescales for Brexit and the timetable for the bidding process. Only once the latter has been completed will the amount of funds be able to be applied for and it might well be too late by then.
TfW hopes to make the final contract award by the end of 2017.