Rail services ‘to improve by next week’
DISRUPTION-HIT train services in Wales should improve “at the start of next week”, a cabinet member has said.
AM Ken Skates, the cabinet member responsible for transport, answered questions about the first few weeks of the Transport for Wales (TFW) franchise when he appeared in front of AMS on the economy, infrastructure and skills committee alongside two senior civil servants yesterday.
Last week, bosses for the service were grilled by the same committee about disruption through the first few weeks of the service.
Pressed if he could provide a target date for services to be operating as a passenger would expect, Mr Skates told the hearing: “A week or 10 days is what was promised by TFW... hopefully by the beginning of next week we’ll be back on target.”
Mr Skates was joined by Simon Jones, director of economic infrastructure at the Welsh Government.
They said that the “best experts in Europe” had been brought in but were struggling to explain what had caused so many trains to go out of service last month, with knock-on delays and cancellations.
Mr Skates began giving his evidence by explaining that getting the rolling stock was “like buying a car. You know it’s had an MOT but you don’t know the quality of the vehicle,” before he was asked why the quality of the rolling stock took the Welsh Government by surprise.
Mr Skates said it wasn’t necessarily the state of the rolling stock which “surprised” the Welsh Government, but the impact that conditions had on the wheels of trains and the scale of what happened.
“We’re still learning more about factors which may have contributed to such a volume of trains out of service,” he said.
Mr Jones told the committee that while Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) met standards, the trains were not up to scratch, with Mr Skates adding the contract with ATW was “dire”.
The hearing was told that at one point only 86 out of 127 trains were in service as the rest were being repaired. Mr Skates said there had been a “Herculean” effort to get train numbers back up, and it will be back to normal service (103 trains) “within days”.
When asked why TFW wasn’t prepared, Mr Skates said: “We followed the DFT process. Transport for Wales undertook a full audit and investigated the fleet as part of the handover... it’s always difficult to ascertain what condition the stock is in.”
He said it was now clear: “The trains were maintained to an absolute minimum standard.”
Russell George, chairing the committee, asked: “Are you blaming the contract or the previous operator for the disruption?”
Mr Skates said: “The contract primarily. The contract was not fit for purpose. ATW met the terms of the contract, but standards were very low.”
Mr George asked why rolling stock couldn’t have been ordered earlier.
Mr Jones said: “The stock we ordered in 2017, that’s now been delayed, was a short-term measure using some second-hand rolling stock.”,
“A lot of the challenges we faced were as a result of electrification across the UK. There was a sense in 2010 there would be no need to develop any new diesel stock.”
A new Transport for Wales train.