Welsh Government to take rail franchise under public control

In the face of dramatic falls in passenger numbers the Welsh Government has decided to bring the Wales and Borders rail franchise under public control.

Transport Minister Ken Skates said the move will help secure the future of passenger services in Wales and the Borders area, protect jobs and maintain the Welsh Government’s ambitious plans for Metro.

The move comes after a challenging period in which Covid-19 has significantly impacted passenger numbers and rail revenue across Wales.

The new arrangements will see day to day rail services become the responsibility of a new publicly owned subsidiary of Transport for Wales, which includes a new partnership between Transport for Wales, Keolis and Amey.

Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, Ken Skates said:

“The last few months have been extremely challenging for public transport in Wales and across the UK.  Covid has significantly impacted passenger revenues and the Welsh Government has had to step in with significant support to stabilise the network and keep it running.

“We have decided to transfer of day to day rail services to a new publicly owned subsidiary of Transport for Wales”.

The decision follows the collapse of rail franchises across England as the privatised model comes under strain from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“In Wales we continue a partnership approach between TfW and Keolis Amey as we work together to protect services for the Welsh public, safeguard jobs and secure the important Metro projects we have been working so hard on over the last few years.” Ken Skates added.

Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport Lee Waters said:

“There are no easy answers to the challenges we face in rail and in public transport over the next few years – passenger numbers have fallen and there will be difficult days ahead as we navigate through the challenges of Covid. 

“We are bringing the Wales and Borders service into public hands because it is a vital asset, critical to the future of our economy and our communities.

“I want us to maintain our ambition for a high quality and integrated public transport system with modal shift at its heart over the next few years and I believe that today’s announcement is vital in helping us do that.”

Catch up from the news rooms

TPE TO INTRODUCE AN ENHANCED TIMETABLE FOR CUSTOMERS

From Monday 6 July, TransPennine Express (TPE) will be increasing the amount of services run in their amended timetable. This further step up in services provides extra capacity on the network for customers who are travelling by rail.

Although there is this increase in the numbers of services being run, there will continue to be restrictions on capacity to help enable social distancing. Seat markers are on board all TPE services indicating what seats are available for customers to sit at.

Customers who are using public transport, including TPE services, should also be wearing a face covering – unless they are in one of those groups who are exempt from doing so, which include children under the age of 11, people with disabilities and those who suffer from breathing difficulties.

Other precautions are being taken to protect customers from Covid-19 (coronavirus) at such as increasing cleaning at turnaround locations, making sure that crew areas are cleaned so our staff can work safely, and focusing on cleaning those areas that people are more likely to touch.

From Monday 4 July, TPE will generally be running the following services. However, customers should continue to check before they travel:

  • Hourly service between Liverpool and Newcastle
  • Hourly service between Hull and Manchester Piccadilly
  • Hourly stopping service between Leeds and Huddersfield
  • Hourly stopping service between Manchester Piccadilly and Huddersfield
  • Hourly service between Manchester Airport and Redcar Central
  • Hourly service between Cleethorpes and Manchester Piccadilly
  • Two-hourly service between Manchester Airport and Edinburgh
  • Shuttle service between York and Scarborough

Additionally, there will be limited TPE services between Newcastle and Edinburgh along with Glasgow Central to Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Airport.

For the latest up to date information, please visit our website: https://www.tpexpress.co.uk/travel-updates/corona-virus-travel-info

Improvement work to start at Ipswich station

A new shop and upgraded toilet facilities are part of £3m of improvements planned for Ipswich railway station.

Work is due to start this month on a scheme to relocate the ticket office, install more ticket machines, create space for a new shop, refurbish and relocate the toilets and upgrade staff facilities.

At the same time, the station will be rewired to provide modern, sustainable lighting and power.

The work is the second and final phase of a project to improve the station for customers.

Three years ago, Greater Anglia invested £2 million in a host of improvements including a complete refurbishment of the existing foyer and ticket hall to create more space during busy periods, the creation of a large airport-style waiting room as well as more comfortable seats with plug points for charging electronic devices

Additional ticket machines were installed and more shops and retail outlets including Starbucks and Greggs opened at the station.

The station forecourt was revamped, in partnership with Suffolk County Council and Ipswich Borough Council with a much-improved layout, including better walking routes for pedestrians, improved bus interchange facilities and better segregation of access between taxis and drop off/meet and greet facilities

Simone Bailey, Greater Anglia’s Asset Management Director, said: “We’re pleased to be starting the final phase of work at Ipswich station.

“There will be minimal impact to customers while the work takes place. It is due to be completed next summer.

“Last year, around 3.5 million people used the station, so we’re pleased to improve facilities for customers who are currently travelling and those who will travel again in the future.”

Government advice currently is to avoid public transport unless you cannot travel another way.

Face coverings should be worn on Greater Anglia stations and trains.

Watford Junction forecourt improvements under way

A project to enhance the forecourt at the entrance to Watford Junction station is under way.

The scheme, being run by Watford Borough Council, will include the installation of large freestanding letters spelling out ‘WATFORD’ (below) to encourage photography and social media usage.

It will see the forecourt transformed into a safe, pedestrian-friendly environment with more open space, plants, paving, lighting, seating and the start of a new heritage trail.

A bike-share bay is also being installed at the front of the station to encourage passengers to cycle into the town centre. The ‘Beryl’ scheme already has 70 bays across Watford.

This project marks the beginning of a series of works at the station, including improvements to the concourse due to be carried out by Network Rail next year.

Sarah Higgins, head of stations for London Northwestern Railway, said:

“Watford Junction is one of our busiest and most popular stations and I am delighted that this project will enhance the approach to the stations for the millions of passengers we cater for every year.”

Peter Taylor, elected Mayor of Watford, said:

“Eight million people a year travel through Watford Junction and I am really excited to kickstart these works to bring our station into the 21st Century. This will make the station forecourt a more welcoming and interesting place and will be a much better first impression for people coming to our town.”

Tina Barnard, from the Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said:

“We are delighted to help kickstart the transformation of Watford Junction station, which will provide the modern facilities needed to support a long term modal shift towards public transport.”

In order to facilitate the improvements, bike parking has been moved from the forecourt to a secure 300-capacity bike parking facility in a nearby lane just off the car park entry road.

For more details on the scheme visit www.watford.gov.uk/majorprojects

Prizes up for grabs as teenagers in Worcestershire urged to keep off railway tracks

Prizes up for grabs as teenagers in Worcestershire urged to keep off railway tracks

Teenagers in Worcestershire are being invited to get creative to help to warn others about the dangers of trespassing on the railway – and win prizes along the way.

The Backtrack campaign has been launched by the Community Rail Network following a 25% surge in the number of trespass incidents across the country during the national lockdown.

The Worcestershire Community Rail Partnership (CRP) and West Midlands Railway are urging children aged between 11 and 18 to take part in the campaign by creating a video, song, rap or storyboard which shares the anti-trespassing message.

Six national winners of the competition will receive a state-of-the-art GoPro camera, while anyone living in Worcestershire will also be entered into prize draws to win music vouchers courtesy of the CRP.

Peter Chapman, from the Worcestershire CRP, said:

“Getting the anti-trespass message across to teenagers is so important, particularly at this time of lockdown easing.

“Our CRP is delighted to be able to support locally this national initiative from the Community Rail Network.”

Jonny Wiseman, customer experience director for West Midlands Railway, said:

“Trespassing on the railway is extremely dangerous. It causes thousands of hours of delays every year and can result in serious injury or death. The penalty for going on the railway is a fine of up to £1,000.

“I am pleased to support this campaign by Worcestershire CRP and the wider Community Rail Network and I look forward to seeing the creative efforts of our young passengers.”

Entries are open now until September 30. Videos must be recorded from the entrant’s home or garden – not near the railway – and must not contain any violence.

For more information on the national campaign click here and for more on the Worcestershire competition visit the CRP website here.

Transport for Wales update for public transport users

Transport for Wales (TfW) is issuing a clear update to all public transport users following changes in advice from UK and Welsh governments, urging people to only use public transport for essential travel and where there are no other travel alternatives.

This Saturday will see some pubs reopen in England. In addition from Monday in Wales the rules will change to allow people from two separate households to form one exclusive, extended household. Monday will also see the end of the five-mile ‘stay local’ guidance. 

It is anticipated these changes might encourage more journeys, so TfW are reinforcing the message that public transport should be used for essential travel only. This is to ensure there is enough space for key workers and those with no alternative option to continue to travel safely.

TfW has already introduced additional safety measures in their stations and on trains including social distancing, one-way systems, additional cleaning and is encouraging people to follow government advice regarding face coverings. 

They are also piloting a ‘capacity checker’ that will allow transport users to plan their journeys based on how busy trains are. This is early on in its development and will be improved gradually over the coming weeks.

James Price, Transport for Wales CEO said:

“The safety of our colleagues and customers has, and will always be, our top priority.

“Covid-19 is an evolving situation and over the next week there are important changes in advice from UK and Welsh governments.  However, we need to reinforce our travel safer campaign highlighting that public transport is for essential travel and where there are no other travel alternatives.

Transport for Wales is also updating its timetable based on potential changes in the number of people travelling and is encouraging people to check their journey in advance by visiting www.tfwrail.wales.

New stations for Wales?

The Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales Ken Skates has written to the Secretary of State for Transport, setting out a strong argument to build four new railway stations across Wales.

Minister for Economy and Transport Ken Skates

The letter calls on Grant Shapps to invest in the Wales and Borders rail network through the UK Government’s Restoring Your Railways fund, not only to improve rail connectivity, but to supercharge Wales’ post Covid-19 recovery.

A report undertaken by Transport for Wales for the Transport Minister Ken Skates identified four locations for new stations. The developments, which would be paid for under the New Stations Fund 3, would be ready by early 2024.

All of equal priority, the stations would be:

  • Deeside Parkway, on the Borderlands Line in North Wales
  • Carno, on the Cambrian Mainline in Mid Wales
  • St Clears on the Great Western Mainline in West Wales
  • Ely Mill on the City Line in Cardiff, in South Wales

In his letter, the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales Ken Skates writes:

“In combination, which is why I have not prioritised between them, the Transport for Wales report demonstrates a compelling case for all four to be developed as an integrated programme to improve access to the rail network across the regions of Wales. They will make a major contribution to improved rail connectivity, supercharge our post Covid19 recovery, and develop our public transport for the future. Our new station openings will be key to Building Back Better.”

Deeside Parkway and Ely Mill will be key components of their respective Metro developments with major contributions to improved urban connectivity, employment/economic growth and reduced car use.

New stations in Carno and St Clears would support strong employment and sustainable economic growth through improved regional connectivity. They share extensive support within rural communities with limited public transport opportunities, who have historically been overlooked, particularly since the closure of previous stations in these communities and of Laura Ashley’s famous factory in Carno.

The Transport Minister also invited the Transport Secretary to discuss further priorities for rail investment, including new stations at Greenfield and Magor. He put forward suggestions for the New Ideas Fund, such as the restoration of passenger services on the line between Gaerwen and Amlwch on Anglesey and an expressed interest in using the Accelerating Existing Proposals fund to restore the line and services to Abertillery in South Wales. He also took the opportunity to reiterate the case strongly for plans which included the Aberystwyth – Carmarthen and Bangor – Caernarfon re-openings.