To develop Wales’ rail network
and North Wales were linked to large franchises based in Birmingham and Manchester respectively. Three InterCity franchises also served Wales.
The Labour UK Government accepted the Welsh Government should not have to deal with three non-InterCity franchises. It rejected devolution of franchising powers over the new Wales and Borders franchise because several English counties depended on some the franchise’s services.
The franchise competition was managed by the UK Government and its Strategic Rail Authority. The process began with unbridled enthusiasm – one prospective bidder seriously contemplated overnight sleeper trains between North and South Wales – but the bidders’ initial proposals were sober. Arguably the proposals were underwhelming, considering the 15-year franchise term – double the usual length – was supposed to incentivise the operating company to innovate, knowing it would have time to benefit financially before the franchise ended.
Franchise bidding documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal Arriva’s initial proposals included improvements which were delivered through a new timetable in 2005. Arriva also proposed acquisition of new Class 170 Turbostar trains, as used by CrossCountry between Cardiff and Birmingham and London Midland between Shrewsbury and Birmingham.
“We are proposing the acquisition of 22 Class 170 units... and various numbers of units to provide resources for those enhancement options related to the Valley Lines,” said Arriva in its initial proposal. “Although we recognise that the Pacer units will operate satisfactorily until the end of the franchise, we recognise that the authority may wish to consider additional Class 170 units to provide further increases in capacity or to raise the quality and image of the Valley Lines services.
“The initial build [of new trains] would be delivered for service from the summer 2004 timetable.”
Further trains could follow in winter 2004 and summer 2005.
Arriva acknowledged the Welsh Government and local authorities had many plans to improve railways in south-east Wales, including adapting stations and tracks for longer and more frequent trains and introducing new services.
Arriva estimated its proposals would provide “31% more seating capacity on the Valley Lines than now... which should provide for between five and 10 years of growth in patronage”.
The additional subsidy which Arriva would have needed is redacted. Consequently, we don’t know how much funding the UK Government decided was not justified by the future needs of the Welsh population and economy, and we can’t compare that funding with the amount the public purse has provided through ad hoc agreements with ATW for additional capacity.
Arriva predicted: “Nonmonetised benefits will arise from improved journey ambience and from increased levels of economic activity and the associated job creation.”
“The root of many of today’s problems is a decision by Labour, under Tony Blair, not to increase the franchise’s subsidy...”
introduce at least 22 Turbostar trains, like the London Midland one pictured here, to Wales in 2004 and 2005