I can hardly believe it’s been a year since we took over the running of your rail services. It truly has been a busy year as we start implementing a huge amount of change and playing catch up for all those years of under investment.
This time last year, we found ourselves suffering the loss of trains damaged by Storm Callum, followed up by an incredibly challenging autumn, which made for a true baptism of fire.
Since then a huge amount of work has gone on both in public and behind the scenes as we continue with our plan to transform your railway.
In my last update, I discussed some of the reasons behind cancellations and trains being formed of fewer carriages than normal. That situation is improving and while problems with older trains will remain, we are investing heavily in making those trains the best they can be.
I’m now able to share some of the details of our plans for the December timetable which will see big improvements and a step change for anyone travelling on a Sunday.
Interior of a newly refurbished class 170
A real positive from my point of view is the welcome arrival of additional trains to our fleet. We’re delighted to be introducing 12 Class 170 trains which will become the newest in our fleet and will serve customers on lines to Maesteg, Cheltenham, Ebbw Vale and along the south Wales mainline.
These trains feature comfortable seats, more tables, plug sockets, Wi-Fi, and most importantly of all, they are fully accessible for all our customers. I had a look at one of the first ones to arrive in our depot last week and I’m sure you’ll be very impressed when you get to travel on them in December. Some images of these trains are below:
Our plans also included bringing in 14 reconditioned trains, however suppliers have hit a number of snags in getting these ready and as a result these have been delayed until next year. So we’ve had to move quickly and have secured nine additional single carriage Class 153 trains in the meantime. We had also been expecting to retire our Pacer fleet on the valley lines, however because of these delays we’ve had to apply to keep those trains running a little while longer. It’s not ideal, but far better than not having trains available. Without an agreement to keep pacers and other older trains going, we would only have around 90 trains we could use, when in Dec we will need around 123 for full service. This measure also means we are able to create an additional 6,500 spaces for customers travelling into Cardiff every single week.
We have also applied to retain the class 37 locomotives and coaches on the Rhymney line for a while in 2020 and the current Gerald mark 3 coaches on the Cardiff-Holyhead services, whilst Network Rail carry out work to ensure the upgraded coaches will be able to operate on the full route - these are called Mark 4’s and are coming to us from the East Coast Main Line (LNER). We are pleased to have found agreement to allow these coaches to initially run along the north Wales coast until later in the year when they will replace the Mark 3’s that currently serve this route. The Mark 4’s are a step up in class from where we are at the moment, including leather seats in first class.
Alongside this news we are busy refurbishing and improving trains. This is a balance as we need to remove trains from service to do this work, so we can only release a few at a time. We have now completed:
- Class 150 – wheel slip protection and automatic sanding on 23 trains. Additionally improvements such as charging sockets (USB and 3 pin plugs) alongside accessibility improvements, including disabled toilets, have been completed on 21 trains.
- Class 153 – the first internal refurbishment and accessibility upgrade on one of these trains has been completed. This is the first of its kind in the UK. A second is not far off completion. By December we will have refurbished 4 units with the programme continuing.
- Class 175 – Two of these have been fully refurbished with power sockets and new seats. These are being done by Alstom in Widnes and the programme continues. A surprising level of corrosion was found on these trains during the work and that has been fixed alongside the refurbishment.
Customers can enjoy comfortable seats, more tables, plug sockets and Wi-Fi
As I’m sure you know, the railway changes its timetable twice a year, in May and December. Prior to that, a vast amount of work goes on to try and make that timetable work for as many people as possible.
There are changes to times across Wales and the borders. This is due to the new GWR timetable (see below) and also new performance measures which mean we are now monitoring performance at more than 50 key customer locations around our network. This moves the focus to delivering services on time along the length of a route, rather than just at the end and times have moved to help deliver better performance for you all along our routes.
Beyond this we need new trains to deliver major new services but we are able to extend Ebbw Vale line services through to Bridgend via the South Wales Main Line and we have built in additional time on the Cambrian line for when Bow Street Station (near Aberystwyth) opens.
One of our key commitments was to speed up journey times between north and south Wales. From December this will be in place, shaving off more than 40 minutes on the current journey time.
Customers using the CLass 153 at Cardiff Queen Street Station
This year, we committed to making massive improvements to our Sunday service. Ultimately more and more people want to travel for work or leisure on a Sunday and giving them less than half the amount of services we have Monday to Friday just doesn’t work. So I’m delighted that from December 15th onwards we’ll be seeing some routes which have never had a Sunday service now being connected, while other routes will see the number of services doubled or even in some cases tripled.
Across our network there will be more than 180 new services, a massive 41 per cent improvement on December 2018 and I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been involved in this work, especially our partners in Network Rail. Key highlights of this for me are:
- Maesteg having a Sunday service for the first time ever and the Conwy Valley line a first ever winter Sunday service
- Going from one Sunday service per day in each direction between Pwllheli and Machynlleth to five in each direction, giving people on the Cambrian line more travel opportunities than ever before
- A vastly enhanced Sunday service on the Rhymney line, with 7 extra services between Rhymney and Cardiff, alongside an almost tripling of services to/from Caerphilly - 16 each Sunday now, becomes 45 from December.
- A winter Sunday service between Llandudno Junction and Llandudno town in addition to the current summer service.
- Services from Cardiff to Gloucester leaving at 08:23 on a Sunday, two hours earlier than last December
- Seven extra services calling all stops on the Crewe to Shrewsbury route
- An hourly service between Treherbert and Cardiff, taking the total number of services from 15 now, to 28 on a Sunday
- The Cardiff Queen Street to Cardiff Bay shuttle will increase from 100 services per Sunday to 130 and will run up to 22:00, giving people even more options to enjoy the Bay area on a Sunday before coming back to meet onward connections. Previously services finished on a Sunday at 19:00 - an additional three hours of service for customers.
A Class170 being worked on
During any major timetable change it’s very important that we work with our partners to understand what they are doing. This year sees one of the most significant GWR timetable changes in living memory. With their new Class 800 trains and the electrification of the mainline between Cardiff and London Paddington almost complete, around 75 per cent of all GWR services will see their times changed. This allows for quicker journeys along the Great Western Mainline, and is great to see after so many periods of disruption whilst the wires were put up. As customers in south Wales know, many of those services run across to Swansea and Carmarthen and down into Pembrokeshire during the summer. So it really is important that you check your journey details when travelling in December and the new year to avoid missing vital connections.
Finally, an important safety moment from me is that with all these extra services on our network, it’s more important than ever to keep your wits about you when using railway crossings and infrastructure. Never assume a line won’t have a train running on it just because it’s a Sunday.
Colin Lea, Customer Experience Director
4 November 2019