Cardiff is lucky. Much of its local railway network consists of the Valley Lines, which survived Beeching and continued into the 1980s because they served coal mines. Cardiff also benefits from a system of governance that has made it easier to unlock the funding and commitment needed to transform these old lines into an electrified Cardiff Metro. As we’ve seen in Portishead, finding a source of funding really matters.
Professor Stuart Cole, Emeritus Professor of Transport at the University of South Wales is a leading expert in transport economics and policy with nearly 40 years of experience in the sector. He shared his experience of the Cardiff Metro project with us at the FoSBR Annual General Meeting in February 2020.
The area’s previous 2003 franchise had no growth built into it and no provision for new rolling stock. Current trains are old and ill-assorted, the journey times are too long, the frequencies are bad and the trains are seriously overcrowded. But roads into Cardiff are heavily congested and people are returning to the trains in desperation. And passenger numbers are rising.
A growing city
Cardiff is growing, with new shopping centres and centrally-located facilities such as the Millennium Stadium, together with new offices which have gravitated to the Welsh capital. In terms of jobs, Cardiff Centre has grown by 82% over the last 20 years.
About 100,000 people come into the Cardiff City boundary on weekdays, of which 80,000 travel by car; on top of this there are many people travelling within the City. It is clear that the number of people using rail is constrained by the capacity of train services.
The Welsh Government know that something has got to be done to improve public transport. It also recognises that buses do not attract passengers because they get stuck in traffic. Its aim is to reduce car numbers by a half while increasing public transport, walking and cycling. This aspiration exceeds Dr Steve Melia‘s stipulation of a 40% reduction in car traffic if we are to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets.
Twelve trains per hour
Transport for Wales have an ambitious scheme. It involves electrification, new trains and a core 12 trains-per-hour service from Pontypridd to Cardiff. In contrast with most other areas of Britain, Transport for Wales are reducing fares by 10% to stimulate demand. There is commitment to build six new stations in the Cardiff area, with 3 more under assessment.
But it’s not all been plain sailing. Key routes will not be electrified due to lack of funding, so the new trains need to be heavier less efficient tri-mode (diesel-battery-electric) units. Bus-rail integration has suffered with the demolition of Cardiff’s central bus station eight years ago; its planned replacement is too small. Opportunities for bus to Metro interchanges are also being missed.
Overall though, from our perspective on the other side of the Bristol Channel, we could be forgiven for being rather envious!