Taskforce steps up bid for better links with North Wales

Cllr Samantha Dixon

The campaign for better rail links between the North West and North Wales has been stepped up.

The North Wales and Mersey Dee Rail Taskforce, which leads the Growth Track 360 campaign, has renewed calls for key improvements to be delivered by the new Wales and Borders Franchise.

This comes as the preferred bidders, Abellio, Arriva, KeolisAmey and MTR, put forward their bids for the franchise, which will be awarded in early October 2018.

The opportunity to update the franchise agreement has been heralded as a “once in a generation chance” to enable future improvements to rail services across the region and provide people in the cross border communities with future-fit, connected services.

The campaign is calling for:
·         The electrification of the line from Crewe to North Wales so the region can be linked to HS2 and fast London trains can continue to Bangor and Holyhead
·         The doubling of frequency of trains between the North Wales Coast Line and Wrexham to Manchester through Chester
·         The investment in new, modern, better equipped rolling stock
·         Creating new services between Liverpool and Liverpool Airport to North Wales and Wrexham via Chester (Halton Curve)
·         Doubling journey frequency between Wrexham and Liverpool via Deeside and Bidston

Chair of the North Wales and Mersey Dee (NW&MD) Rail Taskforce, Cllr Samantha Dixon, said: “To put it simply, people living in North Wales, Wirral and Cheshire have put up with substandard rail services for too long and the new Wales and Borders Franchise presents an unmissable opportunity to put the right structures in place to deliver change.

“There were substantial flaws in the current franchise which we hope will be addressed. Key among these is the fact that the current agreement made no allowance for passenger growth or provision for additional trains, this has significantly hamstrung the potential to develop and modernise services and left the quality of our rail service lagging behind that of other regions.

“The Welsh Assembly Inquiry report into the franchise  made a number of welcome recommendations for improvements to rail services across region. We’re looking forward to seeing a vastly improved franchise agreement, which meets the needs of our communities, presented, as a result.”

The parliamentary report by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the Wales and Borders Franchise, which was published in January, outlined 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.

The report also included 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.

The Task Force, which presented evidence to the Wales and Borders Franchise inquiry committee, highlighted the need for new stock and improved and updated rail services, and said the current franchise made no allowance for passenger growth or provision for additional trains, which constrained developing and modernising services.

The group also highlighted 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.

Iwan Prys Jones, programme manager, North Wales Economic Ambition Board, said: “There is a undeniable need for updated services in the region and as the bidding process reaches this key stage, we want to reiterate the absolute, unequivocal need for new stock, more frequent services and reduced journey times.

“The new franchise presents a great opportunity to ensure that meaningful change is delivered, by ensuring that the cross-border region has the right infrastructure in place to connect its communities and deliver new jobs and opportunities. The Growth Track 360 campaign’s aim is to fast-track GVA  so that it grows to £50.5bn in 20 years – with the right rail infrastructure in place, we believe this is possible.”

Ashley Rogers, chair, North Wales Business Council, said: “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.”

The Rail Task Force includes political and public sector leaders and representatives from business.

It 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 £1bn 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 £50bn.

It is being driven by the Rail Task Force 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.