Rail regulator gives green light for two trains per hour on Wrexham to Bidston railway line
The rail regulator has given the green light for more passenger trains to operate on Wrexham to Bidston railway line.
As part of the £50m North Wales Metro programme to “transform rail, bus and active travel services” across the region, the Welsh Government had committed to increasing the number of trains on the Borderlands Line to two per hour from May 2022.
However, Transport for Wales Rail Limited (TfWRL) and GB Railfreight Limited (GBRf) had both applied for capacity on the line that could not be accommodated together.
Currently, TfWRL operates an hourly passenger service between Wrexham and Bidston while GBRf freight services use sections of the track to serve Deeside and Avonmouth from the Padeswood Cement Works.
Network Rail’s initial capacity analysis showed that only one of the TfWRL or GBRf applications could be fully accommodated, so it rejected both.
GBRf and TfWRL asked the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) to take a decision on the competing applications for access to the line.
The ORR carried out an independent review that looked at the line’s capability, operational issues, and a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed services.
Today’s decision by the ORR will give TfWRL the capacity to add two passenger trains per hour on the line which serves Flintshire stations including, Buckley, Shotton and Hawarden.
The regulator has said its decision, “delivers a positive outcome for passengers with TfWRL able to run two trains per hour for most of the day.”
“This will provide a step change improvement to the passenger service provision in North Wales.”
“Equally, the decision reflects a positive outcome for freight and the local area.”
The freight trains which currently serve Padeswood cement works can continue with greater certainty because of the firm contractual basis, the ORR has said.
Each freight train on this line equates to the removal of 36 HGVs from the roads, bringing associated environmental benefits to the local area.
Stephanie Tobyn, Director of Strategy, Policy and Reform at ORR said:
“We are pleased to have reached a decision that promotes passenger and freight growth in line with our duties through an increase in passenger services and placing the freight trains serving the cement works on a firm contractual basis.
“Our review of the applications identified areas where Network Rail needs to improve its management of granting access to the rail network. We will continue to monitor the Wales and Borders route on these issues.”
Commenting on today’s decision, the influential Wrexham Bidston Rail Users Association (WBRUA) welcomed the announcement, however it highlighted issues around limited stop services and potential gaps in the time timetable.
A spokesperson said: “The WBRUA welcomes this long-awaited decision.”
“It is pleased to note that two passenger trains an hour will run for most of the day, albeit that the additional services are being planned as limited stop and will not call at some stations.”
“It is also pleased to note the benefits of freight traffic over the route to and from Padeswood.”
“Unfortunately, it appears there will be a one-hour gap in the passenger service for the foreseeable future to permit the freight paths in the early evening.”
“Whilst it is almost certainly too late for TfW to introduce additional trains from the next timetable change on 11 December, the Association will ask that TfW implements the additional passenger services as soon as possible and not wait until the next timetable change in May 2023.”
“The Association will also continue to push for line speed improvements which will enable the additional passenger trains to call at more stations together with track and signalling enhancements which will allow two passenger trains an hour to operate throughout the day alongside freight traffic.”
Two trains per hour between Wrexham to Bidston will require additional units to be brought into service on the line.
TfW said in July it plans to introduce its brand new Class 197 “made in Wales” diesel trains on the Borderlands Line “by the end of this calendar year.”
The troubled Class 230 trains which were due to come into service on the line in 2019 are yet to enter service.
TfW has said its “focus remains” on bringing their Class 230 trains into service however the manufacturer Vivarail signalled last week its intention to appoint administrators.
Alexia Course, TfW Chief Commercial Officer told Deeside.com:
“We are awaiting official confirmation and information regarding the recent announcement from Vivarail.
“We will be in a position to provide an updated statement in the coming days, but our focus remains to bring our Class 230 units into service on our network.”
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