Re­vealed: How Ar­riva wanted

As com­plaints grow about over­crowd­ing on Ar­riva Trains Wales, trans­port jour­nal­ist Rho­dri Clark looks back at the new trains and other im­prove­ments which were pro­posed by Ar­riva in 2002 but re­jected by the UK Govern­ment

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NEWS that Ar­riva has with­drawn from the com­pe­ti­tion for the next Wales and Bor­ders fran­chise was greeted with en­thu­si­asm by many pas­sen­gers and at least one Labour MP.

There had al­ready been whis­per­ings of a cam­paign against award­ing Ar­riva the fran­chise among pas­sen­gers who are in­creas­ingly fed up with over­crowd­ing and other prob­lems on Ar­riva’s ex­ist­ing fran­chise.

How­ever, Ar­riva’s ini­tial pro­pos­als for the ex­ist­ing fran­chise back in 2002 re­veal that the root of many of to­day’s prob­lems is a de­ci­sion by the Labour Govern­ment, un­der Tony Blair, not to in­crease the fran­chise’s sub­sidy.

Ar­riva ex­pected pas­sen­ger num­bers to con­tinue grow­ing and rec­om­mended de­ploy­ing new trains along­side the old ones, re­sult­ing in 31% more seats on the Val­ley Lines.

In­stead, Ar­riva and the other bid­ders were told to work out how they would make ends meet if sub­sidy re­mained un­changed or was re­duced by 10% or 20%. The 20% re­duc­tion would have left the Co­ry­ton line with one train ev­ery three hours, while the hourly Maesteg, Ebbw Vale and Llan­dudno to Manch­ester ser­vices would have run ev­ery two hours.

The sub­sidy re­duc­tion op­tions were not pur­sued. There was a sigh of relief as ser­vice cuts were avoided. In hind­sight, the 10% and 20% op­tions seemed to have no real pur­pose other than mak­ing the even­tual fran­chise agree­ment, which has of­ten been dubbed a “no growth” deal, look rel­a­tively good.

“No growth” might be a handy short­hand but it’s not an ac­cu­rate de­scrip­tion of the fran­chise agree­ment, ap­ply­ing from De­cem­ber 2003 to Oc­to­ber 2018. Ar­riva was al­lowed to re­tain some old trains in­stead of re­lin­quish­ing them to other fran­chises, and in De­cem­ber 2005 it im­ple­mented a Stan­dard Pat­tern Timetable, a core fea­ture of its fran­chise agree­ment. The over­hauled timetable im­proved pro­duc­tiv­ity, en­abling Ar­riva to pro­vide more ser­vices and seats us­ing ex­ist­ing re­sources.

Pas­sen­ger num­bers con­tin­ued to grow. The Welsh Govern­ment cov­ered the costs of ad­di­tional 1980s Sprinter units, in ef­fect us­ing its block grant as a sub­sti­tute for the in­creased UK Govern­ment sub­sidy Ar­riva had orig­i­nally en­vis­aged.

Pro­fes­sor Stu­art Cole, of the Univer­sity of South Wales, has com­mented that the ad hoc agree­ments with Ar­riva for ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity would have been more ex­pen­sive than in­clud­ing the same ca­pac­ity in the fran­chise spec­i­fi­ca­tion, where it would have been sub­jected to com­pet­i­tive ten­der­ing. Fur­ther sig­nif­i­cant gains in avail­able train ca­pac­ity came from Ar­riva’s fo­cus on re­duc­ing break­down rates – par­tic­u­larly for the Pacer trains and the long-dis­tance Co­ra­dia trains – with Ar­riva in­vest­ing some of the fran­chise prof­its in en­gi­neer­ing equip­ment and de­pot im­prove­ments.

Not all of the ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity was used to lengthen ex­ist­ing trains. Some of it en­abled in­no­va­tions, in­clud­ing the new Ebbw Vale to Cardiff ser­vice, ex­ten­sion of ATW ser­vices to Birm­ing­ham and Manch­ester air­ports, sev­eral ex­tra trains to Fish­guard per day, and hourly com­muter ser­vices on the Aberys­t­wyth to Shrews­bury line. As the fran­chise en­tered its fi­nal years, ATW had fewer and fewer op­tions to squeeze more pro­duc­tiv­ity from the fleet and age­ing Sprinter and Pacer trains needed time out for re­pairs to cor­roded steel­work.

By now ATW is op­er­at­ing about 25% more train ser­vices per day and car­ry­ing over 60% more pas­sen­gers than when its fran­chise be­gan. On a good day, with just a hand­ful of trains un­der­go­ing re­pairs and main­te­nance, the ser­vice can op­er­ate punc­tu­ally and with­out se­vere over­crowd­ing, but the op­er­a­tion is on a knife edge.

Re­cently, the train fleet has suf­fered sea­sonal prob­lems, in­clud­ing trains be­ing dam­aged by trees felled dur­ing storms. The anger felt by com­muters, or par­ents whose school­child­ren were left on plat­forms, is in line with what Ar­riva an­tic­i­pated in 2002.

Ar­riva’s ini­tial pro­pos­als in 2002 fol­lowed the UK Govern­ment’s recog­ni­tion that Wales should have its own rail fran­chise. When the Na­tional As­sem­bly for Wales was es­tab­lished in 1999, there was one fran­chise to cover South Wales and south­west Eng­land, while Mid

The Labour UK Govern­ment re­jected Ar­riva’s pro­posal to

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