All change? Why I’m hop­ing we now get the rail ser­vice we need

Western Mail - - WM2 | OPINION - TYLER MEARS

SUN­DAY, Oc­to­ber 14 is a date that will go down in Welsh his­tory. Not only is it the day Ar­riva Trains Wales hand over the keys to Trans­port for Wales and new op­er­a­tor Ke­o­lis Amey, but it’s the day Val­leys com­muters’ voices will fi­nally be heard.

Well, hope­fully.

Liv­ing in the Rhondda and work­ing in the city cen­tre, I’ve been catch­ing the Val­ley Lines to Cardiff al­most ev­ery work­ing day for the past seven years.

That’s 83 months of be­ing pushed and shoved on a packed train, 2,555 days of hav­ing my head stuck in some­one else’s armpit and around 61,320 hours of shout­ing re­ally strong swear words as yet an­other bro­ken down, can­celled or de­layed train means I’m go­ing to be late for work – again!

What’s worse – with tick­ets cost­ing around £8.20 for a re­turn – I’ve prob­a­bly paid thou­sands of pounds of my hard-earned cash for the plea­sure.

Since tak­ing over the Wales and Bor­ders fran­chise in 2003, an­nual pas­sen­ger jour­neys on Ar­riva Trains Wales ser­vices have rock­eted from 18m to a stag­ger­ing 33m.

And records show that the firm’s prof­its have more than quadru­pled since then.

But, at the same time, our di­lap­i­dated car­riages have got­ten older, on-board toi­lets have got­ten dirt­ier, ser­vices have be­come more un­re­li­able and com­muters – like me – have been get­ting an­grier.

There have been so many times when I’ve found my­self hav­ing to stand for most of my jour­ney be­cause yet again only two car­riages have been pro­vided to the Val­leys dur­ing rush hour.

Time and time again, I’ve missed ap­point­ments or meet­ings be­cause of can­celled or de­layed ser­vices.

I’ve watched late trains whizz straight past me, been told by a guards to move down an al­ready crowded train and had to jump in my car and drive to work in­stead. And, I’m not alone.

Al­most every­day hun­dreds of com­ments and pic­tures are posted on so­cial me­dia, com­plain­ing about Ar­riva Trains Wales ser­vices – or lack of them – in the Val­leys. And yet, de­spite these com­ments and the hun­dreds of news sto­ries and calls to ac­tion – hardly any­thing has changed.

As part of their farewell cam­paign, Ar­riva have pub­lished a list of their achieve­ments over the past 15 years.

The com­pany say they have in­vested more than £100m dur­ing that time.

But, where has this money gone? Fif­teen years and more than £100m, yet most of the Val­leys sta­tions still don’t have ticket buy­ing fa­cil­i­ties, or toi­lets, or wait­ing rooms.

Ma­jor re­de­vel­op­ments have been un­der­taken in places like New­port, Swansea, Port Tal­bot and Cardiff – yet, there is still only one ser­vice that runs ev­ery half an hour to and from the Val­leys. Or ev­ery two hours on a Sun­day.

And they still can’t get that right, half the time.

Just this past week alone, there have been bro­ken down trains, rail re­place­ment buses and a num­ber of ma­jor lines sus­pended or can­celled be­cause of the weather.

So, what’s go­ing to change, I hear you ask.

Well, I’d ar­gue that we’ve now got some­thing that we haven’t had for a long time – hope.

It might not hap­pen overnight, and the only thing that might be dif­fer­ent on Mon­day is the uni­form – but, for the first time in nearly a decade we fi­nally have hope.

We have plans in mo­tion for change. We’re fi­nally, at last, be­ing lis­tened to.

Ke­olisAmey plan to elec­tri­fy­ing around 80% of the core Val­ley Lines into Cardiff, in­clud­ing the Tre­herbert, Merthyr Tyd­fil, Ader­dare and Rhym­ney Lines.

Many of these lines – like the one I use ev­ery day – have seen the same one-way tracks in and out for years and years. £194m will be spent on sta­tion im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing the build­ing of five new sta­tions and the moderni­sa­tion of all 247 al­ready ex­ist­ing sta­tions on the net­work.

A fur­ther £800m will be spent re­plac­ing ev­ery train in Wales and from 2023, 95% of jour­neys will be made on new trains.

By 2022 four tram-trains an hour from the pe­riph­ery of the net­work into Cardiff will run from places like Merthyr, Tre­herbert and Aber­dare.

Jour­ney times will be re­duced, there will be an ex­tra 294 ser­vices across Wales on Sun­days and an ex­tra 285 ser­vices ev­ery week­day across Wales.

So, yes, to­mor­row is a date that will go down in Welsh his­tory.

But so will the day af­ter and the day af­ter that.

The next decade will see more pos­i­tive and proac­tive changes to Wales’ – and the Val­leys – pub­lic trans­port net­work than we’ve seen in a long time.

So, as the fi­nal 1.06am Ar­riva ser­vice pulls off from Car­marthen to Fish­guard Har­bour to­mor­row morn­ing, we won’t only be say­ing good­bye to Ar­riva Trains Wales.

We’ll be say­ing good­bye to be­ing for­got­ten. We’ll be say­ing good­bye to lack of in­vest­ment, lack of ser­vices and lack of car­riages.

And we’ll hope­fully, be say­ing good­bye hav­ing our heads stuck in some­one else’s armpit.

Ei­ther, that or I’m go­ing to have to start cy­cling to work.

Ge­orgina El­son

> Over­crowd­ing on an Ar­riva train from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff Cen­tral

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