All change? Why I’m hoping we now get the rail service we need
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.
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.
> Overcrowding on an Arriva train from Ebbw Vale to Cardiff Central