Agenda item

Transport for Wales (TFW) Regional Priorities Overview - Rail and Bus Services - Presentation


Transport for Wales provided a presentation which outlined their work on the Swansea Bay and West Wales Metro; this included the rail programme and the bus programme. The Committee was also informed of how Transport for Wales colleagues could support Local Authorities in their strategic transport planning, and the resources that could be utilised within Transport for Wales to support the delivery of the regional work.

Rail Programme

The presentation displayed how the South West Wales area was segmented in terms of the rail programme, and captured the course of the South Wales Main Line, which ran through West Wales and Swansea Bay. Members were informed of the interchange improvements that Transport for Wales had been working on; the relevant stations were clearly highlighted within the presentation. It was explained that the focus for the West Wales area was identifying how rail frequency/service frequency could be increased; and the focus for the Swansea Bay area was on the urban metro intervention, and making use of rail infrastructure that presently wasn’t used for passenger rail services.

A discussion took place in regards to the rail priorities for West Wales, which included a summary of the route options and frequency. The presentation displayed a summary of the current frequency of rail service at each of the principle stations. It was noted that the annual trips for each principle station was calculated, which provided an understanding of the general demand; it was mentioned that the presentation did not include all stations for the West Wales area, however it provided a general picture of the current route options.

Transport for Wales explained that over a number of years, they had been working on business cases to establish new frequencies; each of these could be identified in the presentation, and were captured in a key of ‘additional service summary’. It was stated that if all of the additional route options could be assembled, the frequencies would improve; the proposed service increase was detailed for each of the stations. Members were informed that this would double the rail frequency across the network. It was mentioned that the Grand Union Trains secured rights to run trains through to Carmarthenshire, and this would be additional to the routes that were displayed within the presentation.

The Committee were provided with a summary of the three principle route options Transport for Wales had been looking at in the Swansea Bay area:

·       Tram-Train Swansea to Aberdulais and/or Clydach (red line) – this was noted to be a very complex endeavour, as the line would be weaved through a densely built up urban area in Swansea; however, it had proved to be resilient during the discussions around the development as it would be a huge area of growth and generate a lot more trips, particularly due to the positioning of the Swansea Bay University Campus. It was added that Transport for Wales had continued to work on this route option, and would consult with Members at pertinent points in the development of the project; although it would be a long term project.

·       Pembrey & Burry Port to Swansea (yellow line) – it was explained that Transport for Wales had been undertaking work to re-establish the railway station at Cockett, which would increase the frequency on this line by a further two trains an hour; in addition to the trains that were already in operation. Transport for Wales highlighted that they had investigated whether that frequency could be increase further, to four trains an hour, however this would create a lot of other frequency requirements elsewhere if it was to be increased. Members were informed that this route option could be delivered in the short term, as the majority of the infrastructure was already there and in use, due to it being an existing passenger railway line.

·       Pontarddulais to Swansea via Neath (green line) – it was stated this route did not presently benefit from passenger rail services. Transport for Wales had developed proposals for a service to run from Pontarddulais to Swansea operating initially on a basis of two trains an hour. Transport for Wales had also been looking into the option of making a commercial case to extend one of those services up to Ammanford; there were technical issues associated with this case, however these were being addressed. It was explained that there were some new railway stations on this line, which currently didn’t exist and were in the heart of a number of large suburban communities; including Pontlliw, Felindre, Morriston, Llandarcy, Winch Wen and Landore. The Committee was informed that Transport for Wales had consulted on these opportunities, however were not in a position to confirm that all will be delivered. Officers highlighted that there was a compelling case for each station to be built at the right time, and under the right conditions; Transport for Wales had yet to take a view of which station would be best suited to be built first. 


Following on from the above, it was mentioned that the presentation did not display how the rail network would interact with the bus network; the hope and expectation from Transport for Wales, was that in time the bus and rail networks will work seamlessly through integrated ticketing and a better ability to plan the timetables. It was stated that this will transform the area as an urban transport opportunity in the coming years.

The discussions turned towards the type of demand associated with these stations, and the anticipated travel times between stations; the exact information could not be provided, however Officers were able to provide an idea based on technical reports and theoretical extrapolations.

In regards to additional passenger journeys on the network, it was noted that between the yellow and green line included in the presentation, this represented between 1.3-1.7 million additional trips onto the rail network each year; a million plus of which, on the green line, presently had no opportunity for rail connectivity. In the Wales national context, it was explained that this project was one of three that would be able to attract that level of additional growth; therefore, Officers were able to make a very compelling case to secure the high levels of investment that would be needed to develop this project further.

In terms of travel times, it was raised that not all passengers on this network would be travelling to Swansea; areas such as Neath and Llanelli would benefit greatly from this project, and there were reductions in travel time to a number of locations including Cardiff. It was highlighted that when discussing the totality of travel on the network, there were some improvements and benefits for the travelling public, and the ability to meet targets set by Wales Transport Strategies;

The rail investment priorities for South West Wales were provided to the Committee, which included the South Wales Mainline, the Swansea Bay Area Metro and the West Wales Rail Frequency. It was stated that Transport for Wales were making representations to the Wales Rail Board to secure investment going forward; Local Authorities were encouraged to assist with this by lobbying and representing these matters in the Regional Transport Plan. It was noted that there were similar exercises being undertaken in areas such as South East Wales and North Wales, and it would be important to press this to ensure that the investment can be sought for the South West. Officers mentioned that there were a number of technical variations to existing baseline service that Leaders questioned; Transport for Wales would be preparing advice notes on these.

Members raised queries in regards to the cost of the project. Transport for Wales confirmed that the calculations of the costings had been undertaken and were published on the Welsh Government website; it was agreed that this information will be circulated to the Committee following the meeting. Officers highlighted that the red line route would be the most costly due to the complexity, and the fact that it would be a long term project. It was stated that when considering the costs against the rail priorities for Wales and how many additional passengers would be brought in to use the rail network, the benefits provided a significant case; however, it would be important to be mindful in regards to strategizing the investment and what could be achieved.

It was asked if Transport for Wales had identified the journey time and passenger demand figures for the proposed service extension to a new station in Ammanford. Transport for Wales colleagues confirmed that options had been tested in the Ammanford area, and some of the figures were avaliable. It was mentioned that the analytics team in Transport for Wales were preparing data and transport modelling packs to give to Local Authorities to inform and support their Regional Transport Plan development; these will contain some information in regards to travel demand, whether there was latent and/or suppressed demand, and accessibility planning.

A discussion took place in regards to the Regional Transport Sub Committee’s role in this work going forward. It was noted that for the next meeting, Transport for Wales could provide information in regard to the transport modelling data.

Bus Programme

The Committee were informed that there was a large number of areas in which Welsh Government, Local Government and Transport for Wales were working on to reform the way bus services were provided in Wales; the bus programme was subject to a huge area of transition and some turmoil in Wales currently. It was noted that there were a number of complex issues that needed to be dealt with simultaneously; it was realised that there short term challenges that would need to be considered in the first instance, which was evident from dealing with the Bus Emergency Scheme.

In terms of long term planning, it was mentioned that there was cause to believe that the region could deliver a bus programme that was substantially better than what was currently avaliable, which would offer a greater amount of control to the public sector in the way these services would be provided; however, there would be a number of complexities in delivering the project, and difficulties in working with the public transport operators, particularly in the challenging circumstances post Covid-19. The presentation highlighted the areas in which work was ongoing across Wales.

Members were informed that there was a bus network planning exercise currently ongoing; in the context of the Regional Transport Plan, this exercise could be of benefit and use for Local Governments. It was mentioned that Transport for Wales was already working with the public transport managers across the region, to tentatively work through this exercise in order for Local Authorities to utilise the findings.

Transport for Wales colleagues stated that there had been a number of inefficiencies that had arisen through the bus network in recent years. It was noted that privatisation had fallen into positions of inefficiency where the competition within the industry had created too much complexity on routes, which then created complex timetables for the public to consume; in which there were different services running alongside each other, often with tickets that did not interchange between services due to them being private operators.

Following on from the above, it was explained that Transport for Wales had undertaken a planning exercise where it baselined the bus network in Wales. The presentation detailed the network that was currently operating, and then how the transport modelling data could be used to identify where passengers were travelling to and from, which would then start to develop bus networks which were intended to be less complex, more direct and efficient. It was mentioned that some of this work could be completed by common cooperation with the bus operators, however the majority would need to be done on a voluntary basis on their part; and some would not be carried out unless the way in which bus was provided in Wales was reformed. Officers added that Welsh Government were also starting discussions around introducing bus franchising and the hope to drive greater efficiency through this.

A discussion took place in regards to the current position of this work; Transport for Wales had developed their initial plan for the network, and were able to explain why they think it would be the best way forward for the network. It was noted that the next steps would be to liaise with the transport managers at each Local Authority, as they understood their locality in greater detailer; the conversations with transport managers would explore the approach, and consider the strong points and weak points for that particular area.

The presentation provided an insight into the work relating to planning bus services in order to create a joined up and coordinated network, and how this could flow in terms of process; however, Officers explained that the focus currently was on setting up those conversations with transport managers.

It was noted that bus decarbonisation was one of the more visible areas of investment in South West Wales presently. Members were informed that the Traws-Cymru T1 service from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth was electrified in the spring of this year; it represented a significant improvement in terms of passenger experience and the facilities provided, and also served to decarbonise that service. Officers explained that this was a contribution towards the targets set by Net Zero Wales, in which Welsh Government had established a target to decarbonize bus public transport by 2035; as well as hitting the top most polluting 50% of those buses by 2028. It was mentioned that there was a lot of work being carried out in the Traws Cymru services across Wales to decarbonise those buses first.

Transport for Wales confirmed that they had been looking at business cases to bring hydrogen fuel cell buses into the Swansea Bay and Pembrokeshire areas; Swansea Bay was currently running ahead of those two areas, and the Deputy Minister for Climate Change had given approval for that project to move on in its development. It was noted that Officers were motivated to ensure that Pembrokeshire would be the next area to obtain the funding for this element of work. The Committee was informed that if both of these projects were to be established, it would create a daily demand for hydrogen; this would not only benefit and service these projects, but allows Councils, as a major fleet operator in the public sector, to also speculate and test hydrogen for other parts of their fleet.

Officers provided an explanation as to why the Swansea Bay area had progressed further with the hydrogen fuel cell buses. It was stated that there were a number of conspicuous centres of academic research based around Swansea Bay which were expected to enable greater learning and partnership around this work. It was also noted that the Gateway 2 Zero site was increasingly proving to become quite an asset as a seed to start the Swansea University project, which was backed by Welsh Government; the project was focused on establishing an electric only forecourt, with an expectation that hydrogen refuelling will follow along shortly after. Officers added that they were increasingly optimistic that a hydrogen bus depot could be established in this area, and the operators had demonstrated that they were more than willing to work with Transport for Wales on this.

The presentation highlighted the immediate challenges associated with the hydrogen bus element, as well as the proposed project structure. It was explained that the expectation would be that Transport for Wales and Welsh Government would look after the fleet component in terms of depot and the actual vehicles themselves; and work with third sector and private partners dealing with fuel and supply issues. It was added that Transport for Wales would work with the Corporate Joint Committee in the development of the RTP to ensure that the bus priority infrastructure was being delivered, along with the journey time improvements in order to make the most of these considerable assets that will be invested in over the coming years.


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