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Wales: a taster of the rail challenges for the next government

05 April 2016

In just over four weeks there will be a new government elected in Wales. No doubt the future of the steel industry will be a significant issue for the incoming government. But an incoming transport minister will face some interesting decisions for delivering the rail service which can make a difference for passengers.

For some time, we have known that the franchise for the Wales and the Borders service, currently operated by Arriva Trains Wales, will be up for renewal to start in 2018. This connects north, south and mid Wales with Shrewsbury and also Birmingham. Our most recent National Rail Passenger Survey showed that passenger satisfaction with Arriva Trains Wales has declined by six per cent, with commuter passengers the least satisfied. This decline is one challenge that needs addressing.

The Welsh Government is likely to be granted new franchising powers, so it would lead on selecting the new operator. Apart from the decline in passenger satisfaction, we also know from our own research that passengers would like to see improved capacity; better value for money; improved punctuality and better management of disruption. The decision on the new franchisee should certainly have these fundamental passenger priorities at its heart and also when guiding investment generally, plus any decisions made around remapping the franchise and delivering the Cardiff Metro project.

Specifically, to improve passengers’ satisfaction with fares and value for money, the next transport minister should consider keeping commuter rail fares frozen in real terms. There is also plenty of scope to improve compensation arrangements for passengers. And why not extend the carnet-style tickets introduced in the Valleys, so more people can get a discount on a number of tickets for the same journey? Or part-time season tickets to help passengers travelling less frequently or outside peak periods?

Another big decision for a new transport minister will be accessing private sector sources of funding for the railways. The recently published Shaw report proposed the option of concessions on carefully selected lines which would enable a private sector company to have rights to run part of the railway for, say, 20-30 years, pay a concession to the government and receive the income from running it. Ms Shaw identified the Valley Lines in Wales as being a potential area which the current Welsh Government, Department for Transport and Network Rail have agreed to explore options for this. So, how will a new minister react to this? How will this be incorporated into the development of the new franchise? What impact would it have on phase two of the Cardiff Metro project? Crucially, would such an arrangement bring new investment and an improved rail experience for passengers?

So these are just some of the interesting challenges ahead facing rail passengers in Wales*. With the right approach and a commitment to put passengers at the heart of their decision making, the new minister has the opportunity and levers to make a difference to passengers’ experience.

* Our remit only covers rail in Wales

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