The term Metro can have many meanings in the world of urban public transport. In South Wales it refers to the proposed integrated public transport system for Cardiff, Newport and the surrounding areas including the valleys which were formerly dominated by coal mining.
The Welsh Government is pursuing the delivery of the Metro as part of the process to select a new operator for the Wales and Borders rail franchise. It has set up an arm’s length body, Transport for Wales (TfW), to undertake procurement of the operator for the new franchise. TfW is expected to announce the new franchise operator in January 2018 with the franchise commencing in October 2018.
As part of their bids, the four short listed consortia have been required to present their proposals for the Metro. TfW has explained that it is seeking visionary proposals which will enable multi modal public transport journeys to be made within the region more easily than at present.
The Welsh Government and local authorities consider that if a more seamless public transport system existed in the south east Wales region, this would help economic development. In particular the valley communities would be given a boost by being able to more easily access employment opportunities across a wider area, including in the more prosperous coastal corridor to the south.
The Metro network will comprise the existing passenger rail routes, new rail/light rail routes and express bus services connecting to the rail hubs. Integration is key with through journeys possible with one ticket purchase or using ‘smart’ technology such as pre-payment cards. At present the bus services throughout this area are in the hands of several different operators who do not provide through ticketing to the rail network or each other.
The electrification of some of the rail routes is envisaged, particularly what are known as the core valley lines, comprising the routes running north of Cardiff Queen Street to Treherbert, Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. It is being left to the franchise bidders to decide where to offer electrification and to what extent light rail may play a role in these areas. Proposals for new lines, probably comprising light rail are also invited. Light rail on existing heavy rail routes can be included.
The system map below illustrates the possible network. Some routes comprise existing rail lines whereas others are new routes which might be light rail or express bus. There is no significance in the colours.
As delivery of the Metro would require significant engineering works, the rail operators who are bidding have teamed up with engineering consultancies to form Operator and Development Partner teams. These partnership pairs will potentially be handed responsibility for rail infrastructure on the routes away from the Newport-Cardiff-Swansea mainline replacing Network Rail as the infrastructure provider. Thus vertical integration would be restored to a small part of the rail network 25 years after the demise of British Rail. However, the Welsh Government has stated that it wants the two freight flows that remain in the Core valleys routes to not be threatened which would result in Network Rail retaining some responsibility for the lines north of Cardiff Queen Street.
Railfuture generally welcomes the ambitious proposals to provide a major boost to the role of rail in moving passengers in the most densely populated corner of Wales. The indicative proposals to some extent reflect proposals in Railfuture’s development plan for Wales and the Borders ‘On track for the 21st Century’. There is some concern that if light rail is used for journeys to the top end (terminus) of the valleys, this could (depending on the rolling stock specified) result in current passengers experiencing a deterioration in their ride comfort for journeys of up to one hour, which would be unacceptable. Railfuture Wales committee members have met all the franchise bidders who have been informed that light rail or trams should only be considered for journeys up to around 30 minutes unless an alternative quicker heavy rail service is available for a particular journey. Of course if the light rail rolling stock offered the same passenger comfort and facilities as modern heavy rail stock, there would be no problem. The proposed integration of services and infrastructure in the Core Valleys is welcomed by Railfuture Wales as it provides the potential for a better communication with rail users when engineering work is proposed.
A significant part of the funding for the South Wales Metro will come from the Cardiff Capital Region City deal between the UK Government, Welsh Government and 10 local authorities within the area. £734m of the deal total of £1.2bn is set aside for the Metro. However, the impact of Brexit on the contribution of the EU to the project is uncertain.
Detailed map of possible network
The South Wales Metro – A better connected region