9 Days Remaining

Wednesday 5th
posted by Morning Star in Features

RAMON CORRIA says the Welsh government can and must take action to end the rule of companies with a dismal track record

FROM this year, the Welsh government will have the power to specify the terms and conditions of the Welsh rail franchise.

It will also be responsible for procuring the next operator for the franchise when the current franchise expires in 2018.

At present, most rail services in Wales are provided under the Wales and Borders franchise, operated by Arriva Trains Wales (ATW).

The contract was awarded in 2003 and is expected to end in 2018. A franchise agreement sets out the obligations of both ATW and the Westminster government as franchising authority.

The diesel rolling stock used in the franchise is leased from two rolling stock companies (Angel Trains and Porterbrook), and ATW is also responsible for managing 244 stations and two maintenance depots leased from Network Rail.

The provision of passenger rail services in Britain was privatised following the passage of the Railways Act 1993. Passenger services were divided into several franchises and awarded to private train operating companies (TOCs).

There are four franchises, operated by different TOCs, which have routes in Wales: the Wales and Borders franchise operated by Arriva Trains Wales; services from south Wales to London and the south coast of England operated by Great Western Railway; services from Holyhead to Birmingham or London operated by Virgin Trains; and services from Cardiff to the English Midlands operated by Cross Country Trains.

Four bidders have been shortlisted for rail services on the new Wales and Borders franchise, including the operator which has run it for the past decade.

The current operator, ATW, is part of Deutsche Bahn, which is a private joint-stock company with Germany being its single shareholder.

Abellio Rail Cymru is part of the international arm of the Dutch national rail operator.

KeolisAmey’s Keolis is 70 per cent owned by SNCF — France’s state-owned railway operator — and 30 per cent owned by the Quebec pension fund, while the parent company of Amey is the Spanish multinational Ferrovial, one of the world’s leading infrastructure management and investment companies.

MTR Corporation (Wales) Ltd, among other operations worldwide, runs the Mass Transit Railway in Hong Kong.

The Welsh government said it was aiming to deliver a new, not-for-profit rail model, similar to the one run by Transport for London.

Passengers in Wales feel let down by the present franchise and more protest that new trains are needed to overcome the “huge failure” of the current Wales and Borders rail operated by ATW, and a report written by the Westminster Welsh affairs committee claims the people of Wales have been “deprived” of improvements to the rail network they could have expected.

Delivering a damning verdict on the last 15-year agreement, it states no allowance for growth in passenger numbers was made and there was no provision for extra trains.

But since 2003 the number of passengers has soared by approximately 75 per cent. Although Arriva has increased the number of seats on certain routes at peak times it is still using old rolling stock, the oldest of which is 40 years old, while the average rolling stock has been run for 27 years.

Many hope that under the new franchise in 2018 passengers will start to see improvements, but passengers also argue this can only happen under the present model if transformational change and infrastructure improvements such as electrification become a reality. They stress the “urgent” need for more trains and modern facilities.

As in many parts of Britain, commuters, holidaymakers and even infrequent users in Wales are fed up with the excessive cost of using overcrowded trains, infrequent and late services and outdated carriages — indeed, the whole rail experience.

Privatisation as an experiment has undoubtedly failed and only worked for rail operators, their shareholders and other state-owned rail companies. As TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Wales should not be maintained as another nation’s rail colony. Profits made in Wales should be reinvested to reduce fares in Wales and modernising and expanding the rail service in Wales not Berlin, Hong Kong, Paris or Amsterdam.”

It is clear to most passengers that rather than offering a franchise to run rail services in Wales to one of the “big four” the only way forward is to bring back all British rail services under state control, and the sooner the better. At the very least the Welsh government should take over total control of the franchise itself so that Welsh rail services are owned and run by the people of Wales.

  • Ramon Corria is secretary of the Communist Party of Britain’s Cardiff branch.