By Harry Webster
Calls have been made to modernise train services in Wales, with the Welsh Affairs Committee reporting that members of the Welsh public had become tired of “old and cramped” trains provided by transport company Arriva.
The report claims that many of the services problems are due to the shortcomings of the 15 year-old, zero-growth franchise contract awarded to Arriva in 2003, which did not allow for the increasing use of the service.
Indeed passenger numbers on Welsh train services have increased dramatically – rising from approximately 18 million a year in 2003, to 30 million in 2016. However, under the terms of the current contract, Arriva cannot increase the number of trains granted to them in 2003.
The need for new trains was compounded by the fact that Arriva claim that some of the trains were “approaching 4.5 million miles on the clock.”
Speaking of Arriva’s efforts to ease the pressure across their services, Lynne Milligan, the company’s customer services director stated: “We operate about 20% more than is contractual to us so we have really made a commitment to this business.
“We have invested well over £30m in a whole series of customer enhancements and this year alone we’re going to invest further £2.5m despite the fact that in 18 months’ time we might be walking away from it.”
The Welsh Government however argue that the company are making too much profit, and that they should spend more money on maintaining their services. Speaking upon the matter, Economy Minister Ken Skates said: “It is galling that we spend £25m a year on additional services above and beyond the franchise agreement.
“It stands to reason they should be investing more in the service and I constantly raise with Arriva Trains Wales the need to improve services.”
Mr Skates was also critical of the original contract given to Arriva, saying: “Had it been a more robust agreement reached in 2003, based on an increase in passenger numbers, it would then have obligated the operator, in this case Arriva Trains Wales, to source more rolling stock.”
Students have also expressed dismay at the state of Welsh trains, with one Cardiff student, third year Adam George, claiming the state of the service running between Cardiff Central and Cathays put him off using the connecting service altogether.
Speaking to Gair Rhydd, Mr. George said, “After spending 6 hours on trains to get back to Cardiff from Penzance, and having to change trains twice, the thought of having to change again, and sit on the pretty dilapidated service was really unappealing.
“I’d much rather walk, or spend money on a taxi – even after paying £52 for my ticket.”
The current contract for the Wales and Border train franchise expires at the end of this year, with four companies – including Arriva – vying to take the contract from 2018 onwards. The decision on which company will be awarded the contract will be decided by Welsh ministers later this year, with new trains and service improvements not expected to be made until then.