Posted: Tue 23rd May 2023

Rail user associations call for independent review into ‘unacceptable’ Transport for Wales services

Wrexham.com for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, May 23rd, 2023

In a joint open letter, Rail User Groups from across North Wales, Merseyside, Cheshire and Shropshire have accused Transport for Wales (TfW) of consistently failing to provide a reliable and satisfactory train service. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The group, which includes Wrexham-Bidston Rail Users’ Association, North Cheshire Rail Users’ Association, Mid-Cheshire Rail Users’ Association, and Railfuture North-West and Wales among others, has criticised TfW’s handling of various routes, highlighting severe delays, frequent cancellations, overcrowding, and poor communication. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The Associations argue that TfW’s poor performance and recovery from the pandemic’s effects, especially compared to other operators, have largely stemmed from a disproportionate focus on South Wales, thus neglecting routes in the North and Borders. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

A significant concern is the suspension of services, often due to maintenance needs or staffing issues, which lead to inadequate replacement bus services and increased passenger frustration. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The Office of Rail Regulation has expressed concern over TfW’s failure to maintain the Class 175 fleet, leading to three engine compartment fires within a month and resulting in an Improvement Notice in March 2023. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Transport Focus also lodged an official complaint, highlighting passengers’ dissatisfaction with TfW’s services, which was reflected in the operator being ranked joint bottom in a recent user satisfaction survey. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The Rail User Groups letter cites the persistent failure to provide accurate and timely information as a significant issue, leading to a notable lack of confidence in TfW’s ability to operate routes in the North Wales and Border regions. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Social media has been a particular barometer of public sentiment, with a widespread negative opinion towards TfW. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Further criticism is directed at TfW’s handling of its rolling stock. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The slow introduction of new trains, alongside issues with existing units, has compounded the operator’s troubles. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The letter states: “The introduction into service of new rolling stock by TfW has been an unacceptably protracted affair.  Had the Class 230s and more 197s been in service by now (as per TFW’s original plan), the loss of 175s would not be as critical.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

‘The Class 230s first arrived at Wrexham in the summer of 2020 and at the time of writing just one unit of the five delivered (total cost circa £25M) is in passenger service at any one time, operating every two hours between Wrexham and Bidston. ” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

“The trains’ manufacturers Vivarail assured the WBRUA in September 2022 that all technical issues had been resolved, yet these new trains are losing time every day against a schedule set many years ago for 40-year old trains.”
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“Notwithstanding the train testing and driver-training programme there have been a dozen failures since 3rd April for technical reasons and timekeeping was no better some six weeks after their introduction.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

“TfW say that all new trains suffer teething problems and that timekeeping will improve when drivers gain the confidence to use the greater performance of the new trains. We find this unacceptable.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The Associations argue that TfW’s poor management of its assets has led to overcrowded trains and a failure to deliver promised services. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

There’s a significant concern over the financial impact of these ongoing issues. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

Poor ticket enforcement and decreasing passenger numbers could potentially affect TfW’s bottom line and future investments in rail routes. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The Associations argue that TfW’s poor performance could discourage further investment in routes currently operated by the provider. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The letter concludes with a call for an independent review of TfW, seeking to identify the root cause of the problems and what needs to be done to improve the situation. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

The Associations also urge the Welsh Government to demand reassurances from TfW that it is exploring all options to restore regular passenger services with suitable rolling stock. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

There is a growing consensus that lines such as Wrexham-Bidston should be operated by an operator with a better focus on the region. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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