Welsh rail services to be managed from England under UK government plans

FOLLOWING reassurances from the UK government that a new Welsh rail franchise would not split into English and Welsh sections it appears that many Welsh rail services and stations could instead be managed by England.

Photo credit: Alex Jane Tanton

Photo credit: Alex Jane Tanton

The UK Government has agreed to devolve responsibility for the franchise to the Welsh Government from 2017. However, it appears that this may only include the Valley Lines, Holyhead-Cardiff service and some rural or local services. At the end of January the Welsh government launched a consultation about the next Welsh rail franchise, which is open until March 18th.

2015’s St. David’s Day Agreement, which set out further devolution powers for the Welsh government, stated that to “ensure proper accountability” services who primarily serve English markets are to be kept in England’s control after the Wales and Borders franchise was devolved.

This means that much of Wales’ rail services could end up being managed from England, with the UK government promising to not split services and force passengers to change at the border.

The Department for Transport has yet to say when it will publish its proposals, a year after the agreement was published.

Many were concerned that the services would be split into English and Welsh sections, which could have an economic impact on Wales.

But Rail Minister Claire Perry recently stated that passengers would be able to travel between England and Wales without having to change trains. She went on to say:

“We are working closely with the Welsh Government to decide which cross-border routes and stations will be devolved, taking into account the best interests of passengers on both sides of the border. No decisions will be made without considering local views and we will carry out a full public consultation in due course.”

First Minister Carwyn Jones responded by saying:

“It appears that in the Department for Transport they want to see no service that begins in Wales and terminates in England operated by the Wales and Borders franchise. In other words, the only services that would be run by that franchise would be services that begin and end in Wales.”

This could mean that services like the service from Milford Haven will transfer to a franchise based in England, since the trains continue to Manchester. Other services like the service from Aberystwyth to Shrewsbury and Birmingham would then come under another English franchise – with the possibility of the Pwllheli line being taken over too.

This could result in four train operators providing services along the North Wales coast and a fifth operator, Merseyrail, operating between Wrexham and Bidston.

Some are concerned over the viability of planning improvements with so many franchises involved.

The chairman of Arriva Trains Wales, Les Lumsdon, warned it was unwise to have so many companies operating in one place, saying:

“Who’s going to coordinate services, and the different ticketing regimes of those companies? It’s not sensible to have so many companies operating in what seems contested territory.”

John Rogers, chair of Railfuture Cymru, warned that breaking up the network would reverse productivity gains which followed the launch of the all-Wales franchise in 2003.

Arriva Trains wales was awarded a ‘no growth’ franchise deal in 2003 to control all Welsh regional services. In 2005 it overhauled timetables to introduce extra services, which has resulted in a large increase in passengers without a significant expansion in its fleet.

In recent months Arriva Trains Wales has been involved in talks with the trade unions RMT and Aslef following disputes with train staff over pay and overtime, which have resulted in two strikes already this year and caused major disruption to its services.