The Welsh Government is to bring the Wales and Borders rail franchise under public control, ‘in the face of dramatic falls in passenger numbers’.
The new arrangements will see day to day rail services become the responsibility of a new publicly owned subsidiary of Transport for Wales (TfW), which includes ‘a new partnership’ between TfW and Keolis and Amey, who have operated the franchise since 2018 on what should have been a 15-year contract.
However, Amey Keolis Infrastructure will continue to be responsible for the electrification programme on the Core Valey lines.
The current contract was said to be a 'new journey'
The Welsh Government said the move ‘follows the collapse of rail franchises across England as the privatised model comes under strain from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic’.
Ken Skates, Welsh Government minister for economy, transport and North Wales, 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.
‘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.’
In a statement to the Welsh Assembly, Mr Skates said the new relationship between TfW, Keolis and Amey will be made up of ‘three key components’:
- From February 2021, the delivery of day to day rail services will be the responsibility of the new publicly-owned subsidiary of TfW, ‘allowing government to have an even greater role in the delivery of rail services in Wales and the borders, reflective of the new commercial realities of the post Covid-19 environment’.
- Infrastructure management and transformation of the Welsh Government-owned Core Valley Lines will continue to be delivered under the current contract.
- A new partnership with Keolis and Amey, led by TfW, will be developed, ‘which will allow the people of Wales to continue to draw on the international experience and expertise of these partners to help TfW to deliver important commitments such as integrated ticketing, on demand transport systems, cross modal design and delivery, in addition to the ongoing integration of light and heavy rail’.
Mr Skates told assembly members: ‘This model will continue to help deliver our vision for a high quality rail service through effective vertical integration of track and train, building on the work already achieved through the transfer of the central Valleys Lines earlier this year.
‘I have asked Transport for Wales to start the detailed discussions and implementation based on the principles outlined in an agreement with Keolis and Amey.’
He added that the delivery of key commitments such as the creation of the Metro, the delivery of new rolling stock for the Wales and Borders rail network and other improvements ‘remain a priority for Transport for Wales and partners…in spite of the challenges we are currently facing as a result of the coronavirus pandemic’.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Transport Focus, said: 'Passengers are less concerned about what goes on behind the scenes provided it doesn’t result in disruption for them. A stable, reliable railway will be a key part in getting Wales moving again and helping rebuild the economy.
'Welsh Government and Transport for Wales must now work together to build an attractive proposition that will encourage people back to rail, when the time is right, and offer what passengers are keen to see - good performance and more flexible tickets that fit the way we live and travel now. Passengers will also want to see the promised investment delivered.'