The Welsh Government has launched its vision on the improvement of North Wales transport system aimed to establish a sustainable, efficient and integrated transport system. The whole system relies on the development of urban rail transport and public rail transport.
North Wales benefits from access not just to the markets in the region, but also to those in Wales, Northern Powerhouse and Midlands, London. North Wales Region contributes by EUR 15 billion (£13 billion) to the gross added value (GVA) of Great Britain’s economy and, together with its sub-regions, they have a national economic contribution of EUR 30.5 billion to GVA. Under these circumstances, the establishment of a performant transport system is an essential element in meeting the region’s development objectives providing connections between the business segments and markets, facilitating trade and developing tourism.
The Welsh Government’s priority for the next years is to improve transport services and infrastructure. To that end, in March, Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure, Ken Skates, launched the ‘Moving North Wales Forward – Our Vision for North Wales and the North-East Wales Metro’, a strategy that proposes projects and measures for developing connections in the region. “Modernising the transport network across North Wales and delivery of an integrated North East Wales Metro are key priorities for the Welsh Government. They will provide a fantastic platform to deliver sustainable economic development, connecting people, communities and business to employment, services, facilities and markets through reliable, resilient infrastructure,” Ken Skates said.
The vision comprises all transport modes and the railway system mentions 10 development and integration projects.
The projects included in the recently-announced vision are integrated transport hubs and the optimisation of rail access in Deeside, Wrexham, increasing the capacity of Chestern Station, the electrification and signalling of North Wales Coast Main Line, the development of alternatives to facilitate travelling on Wrexham-Bidston Line and Wrexham-Chester, pursuing the preparation of specifications for a new franchise starting with 2018 (New Wales and Borders Franchise), the development of rail freight transport facilities in Holyhead Port and shifting traffic to railways.
Secretary Stakes announced that EUR 690 million were allocated to transport infrastructure projects and European funds could grant another EUR 47 million. Moreover, the Welsh Government next to the UK Government committed to develop the next phase of the south-east Wales Metro, by electrifying Velley Lines at a cost of over EUR 845 million. There are plans to create a team that will collaborate with other public organisations, operators, the business environment and other communities to develop the vision and improve the integration of the entire transport system. “This will help inform and deliver a transport system that meets the needs of North Wales, ensuring our vision for a connected North East Wales becomes a reality,” Skates said.
One of the ambitious projects of the Welsh Government is “Metro” public transport project consisting of the light rail and public railway systems, but also including bus transport.
The Metro transport system
New stations, new routes, increasing the frequency of trains and improving the quality of services are projects that will contribute to the transformation of the whole transport system around Cardiff Capital Region, where there are 10 local authorities. The key components of the system include an electrified railway system, the integration of transport hubs, park-and-ride facilities, the construction of new light rail and bus routes, but also increasing the services level of integration between transport modes and operators. In this context, the optimisation of services on Valley Lines is one of the main elements of the project that should be completed this year. Also, “Metro” project includes all the lines from and north of Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan line, Ebbw Valley and Maesteg branches, the Marches- Abergavenny line and South Wales mainline. Increasing the capacity and optimising the frequency of services on these routes, next to the procurement of new rolling stock, will significantly contribute to the improvement of services.
In developing the project, the parties considered the constraints that the regional transport network faces. According to Metro Impact Study, the largest and densest-populated communities that have few rail connections, are in Cardiff and Newport suburban regions and in Cwmbran, Blackwood, east of Caerphilly, upper Blaenau Gwent and lower Rhondda Cynon Taf. Also, the study found that the rail network north of Cardiff meets constraints, because of simple line sections, while signalling and infrastructure systems impose limitations on the main network. All these problems reflect on transport services and the construction of new lines and stations, as well as the modernisation of the existing network become primordial for the establishment of a well-connected transport system in the region.
“Metro” is a long-term programme. The first phase was launched and included the extension of the railway to Ebbw Vale, enhanced transport capacity and development of stations on the network.
Phase II, estimated to be developed between 2017 and 2023, will focus on the modernisation of Valley Lines mainlines and of South Wales general network. Infrastructure works will be integrated with the procurement programmes of the future Wales and Borders franchise. The future phases of the project could be carried out after 2023 and would involve the construction of light rail lines and connections to other transport modes, as well as extensions of the existing network.
“Metro” projects need to be implemented, especially since rail transport demand in Wales is expected to boost. Network Rail’s Route Study (2015) showed that demand increased from 20 million passengers (in 2004-2005) to 30 million passengers and their number is expected to increase with 76% on Valley Lines by 2023.