My colleagues across Transport for Wales and I would like to wish you and all your families a very happy Christmas and New Year.
I’m sure that like us, you have been busy rushing around to get things done and tying up loose ends ahead of the festive period, to give yourselves a well-deserved break. I hope you all get plenty of time to spend with your loved ones over the festive period.
There’s certainly been a lot going on here since my last update and I thought it would be good to cover three key areas that affect the service for us all.
As I’m sure many of you will remember, last autumn was a particularly challenging time for the railway. Having inherited a small and aging fleet of trains we seemed to suffer more than most, with a third of our trains out of action on some days. This year we were determined not to see a repeat of that. Alongside our partners in NetworkRail, we did the following:
- Fitted Wheel Slide Protection and auto sanding on our Class 150 fleet and not a single Class 150 needed wheel turning this year.
- Increased clearance and cutting back of tress, shrubs and weeds growing near the tracks in the areas most affected by wheel slips. (Network Rail) This equated to 2.7million square meters of ground cleared.
- A comprehensive rail head treatment train programme (Network Rail) – this is a special train that blasts debris off the rails to help avoid the slippery conditions experienced.
- Invested £120,000 in our wheel lathe (the key tool used at Canton depot to correct damage caused by the slippery conditions) and trained three new people to operate it
- Increased our frontline response teams.
I’m delighted to say that thanks to this investment and the incredibly hard working front line teams we saw a 57% reduction in trains being damaged this year compared to last. Or to put it another way, last year we had to repair 170 trains as a result of autumn weather damage, but this year it’s been just 76. That means more services run, less cancelled and a better service when compared to last year.
With autumn being autumn, we did not escape unscathed and unfortunately two of our trains suffered bad collisions with trees that had been blown into their paths. The worst damage was suffered to a train on the Fishguard line. Thankfully our driver only suffered minor injury but this train will be out of action until at least February as the front end was badly buckled in the collision. Network Rail took the sensible decision to close the line and clear other trees which could have fallen at some point in the future. This has been repeated this on the Milford line and whilst we recognise the disruption this causes, safety will always come first.
Of course we know some of you still experience very busy trains. Myself and my colleagues travel on those trains every day and we’re very conscious of that and are passionate about making this service the best it can be. But we can at least reflect that our approach this year does seem to have made some difference and we have been able to provide a much improved service against last year.
From Sunday 15 December, our new timetable kicked in. I’ve already discussed this at length in my previous update, however I’m very keen to remind you all that this is the most significant timetable change in Wales for a decade.
As well as 186 new Sunday services, we’ve introduced 12 new to Wales trains, which became the newest on our network. These initially serve routes between Maesteg, Cardiff, Cheltenham and Ebbw Vale, marking a real step change in the quality of service we are able to offer you. These new trains are 32 new carriages and will really allow us to spread our remaining fleet around better and offer more capacity on our busiest routes.
It's vital that you all remember to check your train times though as a lot of services have been retimed. There are a few reasons for why that happens, the main one for us being the electrification of the line between Cardiff and London Paddington. This means quicker journeys between the two capital cities, but also means we have to shuffle around some of our train times. So if you’ve been catching the same train day in, day out, please do double check the time of it as it could be running a few minutes earlier or later.
I’m delighted to be ending this blog on a particularly positive note, which I hope will come as a welcome early Christmas boost. On average, Transport for Wales will actually be lowering fares from January.
Ultimately every £1 spend on a train ticket sees at least 98p reinvested in the railway. That money goes towards things like fuel for our trains, maintenance, staffing, security and station improvement. So we will be using your ticket price to build and maintain a better railway. Some areas will see a small increase, we have to acknowledge that. But we are working hard to ensure this is done fairly and we can help make fares simpler and more affordable for all.
Overall the UK wide fare increase was 2.8%, whilst on Transport for Wales services the overall average fare change for customers will be -1.1%, which for many passengers means a reduction for the first time in many years.
Amongst the key initiatives we’ll be introducing from 1 January 2020 are:
- Free travel for under 11s when travelling with a fare paying adult (up to 2 children)
- Free off-peak travel for under 16s when travelling with a fare paying adult (up to 2 children)
- A 10% fare reduction on fares to, from and within North Wales
- Cardiff and Valleys Zone 5 (the heads of the valleys) fare reduction
- Off Peak Day Return repricing with many fares reduced 6%
- Off peak discounts for annual season ticket holders, 34% discount off-peak for season ticket holder plus up to 1 accompanying passenger
- Advance tickets now also available on the day of travel
Finally I’d like to spare a thought for all those who will be working on Christmas Day from our emergency services to our armed forces and also everyone working hard behind the scenes in a host of different industries to keep the country running behind the scenes.
Cofiwch, Nadolig llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda,