The North Wales & Mersey Dee (NW&MD) Rail Task Force that leads the Growth Track 360 campaign has welcomed a report by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the Wales and Borders Franchise.
The Wales and Borders Franchise report, which was published in January, makes a number of recommendations for improvements to rail services across the Mersey Dee and North Wales region ahead of the bid for the new not-for-profit Wales and Borders rail franchise, which will be awarded in early October 2018.
The NW&MD Task Force, which includes political and public sector leaders and representatives from business, has been created to identify and promote rail improvements across Cheshire, Wirral and North Wales. Its Growth Track 360 Rail Prospectus sets out a vision for £1 billion of rail investment across Mersey Dee and North Wales which would deliver 70,000 new jobs and increase the area’s gross value added (GVA) to £50 billion.
Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up-to-date with the latest Growth Track 360 campaign activity.
The Task Force presented evidence to the Wales and Borders Franchise inquiry committee at the House of Commons in November highlighting the need for improved and updated rail services. The delegation said the current franchise made no allowance for passenger growth or provision for additional trains, which constrained developing and modernising services.
The group also specified the importance of maintaining the major cross border passenger flows in addition to those within Wales that the Wales and Borders franchise serves, including those with Manchester International Airport.
age of trains a barrier to passenger satisfaction
The resulting parliamentary report outlines a number of key recommendations for improvements to the new franchise model, including the acquisition of new rolling stock. The current rolling stock has an average age of 27 years, and the report sees the age of the trains as a key barrier to achieving passenger satisfaction.
It also lays out the need for a number of infrastructure improvements, including the electrification of the network, line speed and signalling enhancements, station facilities upgrades and increased capacity at stations which currently act as bottlenecks. The prioritisation of the electrification of the North Wales line is also highlighted.
Chair of the NW&MD Cross-Border Rail Task Force, Councillor Samantha Dixon, said: “We welcome the recommendations contained within the report, and are delighted to see that a number of key measures have been included, which will help to deliver better, faster and more frequent services across Cheshire, Wirral and North Wales.
“The taskforce has worked tirelessly to outline the importance of key improvements and changes to the current franchise model. These are imperative to the delivery of better services, and it is encouraging and heartening to see that these vital measures have been included within this incredibly thorough and systematic report.”
The report also recognises the importance of the current Wales and Borders Franchise routes remaining the same, to ensure the franchise meets the needs of passengers who can benefit from a unified and coherent network.
Under the current franchise, the only financial penalty in the contract relates to the punctuality of the trains. As a result there has been no incentive to maintain or improve passenger satisfaction in other respects. Under the new franchise, the report has highlighted that it is vital that there are a range of incentives and contractual obligations to ensure customers receive a good level of service in all respects throughout the franchise term.
people deserve better rail services
Programme Manager, North Wales Economic Ambition Board, Iwan Prys Jones, said: “People and businesses based in Cheshire, Wirral and North Wales deserve better rail services – without them our economy is unable to reach its full potential and is significantly ham-strung. We‘re very pleased to see so many helpful recommendations that will enable the modernisation and wider upgrade and expansion of the rail networks to go ahead within today’s report.”
Ashley Rogers, Chair, North Wales Business Council, said: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ensure the structure is in place to update the rail offering, and we welcome the measures that have been recommended within the report. Delivering an improved franchise model that holds companies to account and sets out clear standards for service and delivery is vital – this will help to set us on the right course to future-proof services and drive forward wider improvements that will have a positive impact for local communities, both now and for generations to come.”
Abellio, Arriva, KeolisAmey and MTR have been named as preferred bidders for the new franchise.
The Growth Track 360 campaign is being driven by the North Wales and Mersey Dee Rail Task Force (NW&MD) and has the backing of the region’s eight local authorities, the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership, the Mersey Dee Alliance, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, the North Wales Business Council and the West Cheshire & North Wales Chamber of Commerce.
Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up to date with Growth Track 360 campaign activity.