Can trains drive eco­nomic growth?

Bangor Mail - - NEWS -

HE new rail fran­chise will launch in Wales this au­tumn – with busi­ness lead­ers hop­ing it can give the econ­omy a ma­jor boost. Ke­olisAmey will start to op­er­ate the Wales and Bor­ders rail ser­vice from Oc­to­ber, with £5bn of in­vest­ment promised over the 15-year fran­chise term.

North Wales has been promised more ser­vices – in­clud­ing di­rect routes from Liver­pool to Llan­dudno and Ban­gor to Manch­ester Air­port – as well as in­vest­ment in rolling stock and sta­tions.

Long-dis­tance North-South ser­vices will be op­er­ated by the “high-qual­ity” Mark IV coach­ing stock, and reg­u­lar North Wales coast ser­vices served by newly-built CAF Civ­ity Diesel Mul­ti­ple Units. Ser­vices for Wrex­ham to Bid­ston, Conwy Val­ley, and Ch­ester to Crewe will be op­er­ated ini­tially through the Viva Rail “Class 230 D” trains.

The am­bi­tion is for the im­proved ser­vices to make it eas­ier for com­muters to travel for work as well as en­cour­ag­ing more peo­ple to the re­gion by train. This should help ease con­ges­tion on busy roads like the A55 and A483, which would be good news for the re­gional econ­omy.

But many be­lieve this should be just the start of the in­vest­ment in rail ser­vices, with de­mands for elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of the North Wales main line, as well as bet­ter con­nec­tiv­ity with HS2. chair­man of the Dee­side Busi­ness Fo­rum, Askar Sheibani, says he is very pos­i­tive about the po­ten­tial im­pact of the new fran­chise.

He said: “It can­not be any worse than the cur­rent Ar­riva ser­vices and, from the sound of what is be­ing promised, this will bring pos­i­tive ben­e­fits to the North Wales econ­omy.

“There will be more ser­vices, par­tic­u­larly di­rect ser­vices to places like Liver­pool and on up­graded trains, with cleaner sta­tions. This sounds very pos­i­tive but, of course, we will have to see how it is de­liv­ered.”

CEO of the West Cheshire & North Wales Cham­ber of Com­merce, Colin Brew, said: “Th­ese an­nounce­ments are most wel­come, as we have been cam­paign­ing for im­proved rail in­fra­struc­ture for some time.

“Having a trans­port sys­tem that meets the needs of busi­ness is es­sen­tial for the growth of North Wales’ econ­omy. The new rolling stock and im­proved ser­vices will lead to less cars on the road and bet­ter connections be­tween busi­nesses and peo­ple, which in turn can help boost the re­gion’s pro­duc­tiv­ity.

“With HS2 on the hori­zon, it is now es­sen­tial that plans are put in place so that North Wales can take ad­van­tage of this ma­jor project. If we do not have suf­fi­cient connections to a Hub at Crewe sta­tion, North Wales risks be­ing left be­hind by this £56bn in­vest­ment.”

CBI Wales di­rec­tor, Ian Price, said: “The award­ing of the Wales and Bor­ders Fran­chise to Ke­olisAmey looks like it will be great news for Wales and its com­muters. The £5bn 15-year fran­chise will see the en­tire fleet of trains re­placed by 2023 with air con­di­tion­ing, wifi and smart tick­et­ing.

“In ad­di­tion, there will be a 29% in­crease in ser­vices dur­ing the week and al­most £200m in­vested in mod­ernising all 247 sta­tions.

“This is the re­sult of a new type of pro­cure­ment process that placed pas­sen­gers’ pri­or­i­ties cen­tre stage. We hope this model will be fol­lowed for fu­ture ma­jor pro­cure­ment projects.

“But the proof of the pud­ding is in the eat­ing, so the Welsh Govern­ment must work across govern­ment to max­imise the eco­nomic po­ten­tial of this project and en­sure po­lit­i­cal prom­ises be­come every­day re­al­ity.”

Chair of the rail cam­paign group Growth Track 360, Cllr Sa­man­tha Dixon, said: “The pro­pos­als go some way to re­al­is­ing the am­bi­tion for our net­work that was set out in the Growth Track 360 prospec­tus. We es­pe­cially wel­come the com­mit­ments for di­rect trains to Liver­pool from North Wales, the pro­pos­als for new and im­proved rolling stock with in­creased ca­pac­ity, the long-awaited con­fir­ma­tion of ad­di­tional ser­vices be­tween Wrex­ham and Bid­ston, ac­cel­er­ated jour­ney times and the am­bi­tious pro­gramme of sta­tion im­prove­ments.

“The good news on the fran­chise builds on com­mit­ments from the Depart­ment for Trans­port to pre­pare and con­sider busi­ness cases for im­proved line speeds on the North Wales Coast and Wrex­ham to Bid­ston lines.”

But she said Growth Track 360 will con­tinue to push for:

Bet­ter con­nec­tiv­ity with Manch­ester and its air­port, in par­tic­u­lar;

Bet­ter con­nec­tiv­ity with Crewe and HS2;

Elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of the Holy­head to Crewe line, with clas­sic com­pat­i­ble ser­vices running from North Wales onto the HS2 line to Lon­don.

Chair of the North Wales Eco­nomic Am­bi­tion Board and Leader of Flintshire County Coun­cil, Cllr Aaron Shot­ton, said: “The fran­chise pro­pos­als give us a plat­form to work on ideas in the North Wales Growth Bid to cre­ate in­te­grated trans­port hubs around our prin­ci­pal sta­tions and link rail ser­vices with ma­jor cen­tres of pop­u­la­tion, em­ploy­ment, re­tail and health ser­vice de­liv­ery.

“Pro­posed fare re­duc­tions in North Wales are a sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­nity to make rail ser­vices sup­port the econ­omy along with in­vest­ment in sta­tions (eg, more park­ing places) and trans­port hubs at Dee­side, Shot­ton and Wrex­ham.”

Cl­wyd West MP David Jones said: “It’s to be hoped that the cur­rent sub­stan­dard Ar­riva rolling stock will be re­placed as soon as pos­si­ble. It’s dis­ap­point­ing, how­ever, that parts of North Wales will have to make do with 30-year-old for­mer Dis­trict Line trains, in con­trast with South Wales, which will be having brand new rolling stock.”

Econ­omy Sec­re­tary, Ken Skates, said: “Our Eco­nomic Ac­tion Plan com­mits us to pub­lic in­vest­ment with a so­cial pur­pose, and this is some­thing that is right at the heart of our new ap­proach to rail.

“The new con­tract will bet­ter con­nect com­mu­ni­ties and peo­ple to em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties in or­der to stim­u­late in­creased eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, while the im­proved ser­vices will al­low pas­sen­gers to travel more ef­fi­ciently and work while they com­mute.

“It will also see our de­liv­ery part­ner, Trans­port for Wales, di­rectly cre­at­ing 600 ad­di­tional em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties along with 450 ap­pren­tice­ships, as well as open­ing a new North Wales of­fice to sup­port the man­age­ment and de­liv­ery of the new rail ser­vices in the re­gion.”

Viva Rail trains will be used on the Ch­ester to Crewe, Wrex­ham to Bid­ston and Conwy Val­ley lines

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