Making the Metro work for the Valleys and for Cardiff…

I did a lot of “heavy lifting” re: the South Wales Metro 2010-2016, the burden then passed to Transport for Wales….and now to Keolis/Amey who will work to deliver it by 2023/4.  Perhaps I may allow myself a moment to sketch out some ideas for how the planned network could be enhanced and extended from the mid 2020s …..

A new cross-valley tram-train service and an integrated public transport network across Cardiff

So now we know a little more after the announcement from Transport for Wales and Keolis/Amey on June 4th 2018;  the next phase of the South Wales Metro really will be a radically improved and innovative network for the core valley lines from Merthyr, Rhymney, Treherbert, Aberdare & Coryton to Cardiff City Centre, Penarth and Barry.

We will see four trains per hour from all points on the network periphery and many more on the core routes into Cardiff from Pontypridd, Barry and Caerphilly (I think the 2tph specified for the Coryton line will be quickly revised up to 4tph and the City line will probably require a little further infrastructure work to get to 4tph).  It will exploit new types of Heavy Rail (HR) rolling stock serving VoG to Rhymney and on-street capability via a tram-train Light Rail Vehicle (LRV) on routes north of Cardiff  via Pontypridd and to the Bay, delivering faster, more frequent services and more capacity; flexible extendibility is built-in via the tram-train capability and an initial tranche of new stations deliver greater accessibility.  The wider commitment to invest to upgrade every station across Wales is also impressive.

The new stations on the South Wales Metro will be at Gabalfa, Crwys Rd, Loudon Square and the Flourish opposite the Millennium Centre in Cardiff and what looks like a relocation of Trefforest Industrial Estate to be nearer  Nantgarw (near Coleg Y Cymoedd and the planned DWP office).  This is a significant increase in public transport accessibility.  I also expect to see more details of how Ebbw Vale will be re-connected to Newport.

In due course I also expect a few more stations to be added to this list. For example, at  Pontypridd bus station (inconceivable for the largest bus station in the mid valleys and next to the rail line not to be integrated), Wedal Rd ( nearest point on rail network to Heath Hospital and ideal interchange for x-city bus service) and at Herbert St (to take pressure off Cardiff Central and provide easier access to the new offices on Tyndal street) as originally set out in the Metro Impact Study commissioned by Welsh Government in 2013.  Also worth considering Upper Boat which could support a major P&R serving the Church Village area and a further station between Pentrebach and Merthyr (near proposed new housing). I’d like to see the additional station  works expanded and accelerated so they are all delivered in the core by 2024 as it is more difficult to retrofit stations once new services have been introduced.  These additions may require additional funding from the region?

So now let’s get behind Welsh Government, Transport for Wales (TfW) – who have done a remarkable job in running this most complex procurement since 2016 – and Keolis/Amey, to build, deliver and operate this next phase of the South Wales Metro. It is vital that this essential foundation is completed successfully.

There will be some finessing of the scheme and some adjustment during detailed design and implementation to tease out the maximum benefits, but if all goes well it will be operating in the early to mid 2020s; pretty much along the lines of the vision I originally developed, with the support of the Cardiff Business Partnership & published by the Institute of Welsh Affairs, in 2011 (i); this was followed up in further studies with the Metro Consortium in 2012/13 and developed later with Welsh Government leading up to a decision to progress with procurement in 2015.


I am pleased with how this is all turning out. Going further back, it really delivers Prof Marquand’s vision (ii) for an electrified commuter rail network across the valleys he published in, “South Wales Needs a Plan”, in 1936!  Nor am I forgetting the work of groups like SEWTA and other local authority proposals going back to the work to reopen lines in Mid and South Glamorgan in the 1980s and later the Ebbw Vale and Vale of Glamorgan Lines.

Swales needs a plan

Options for the Future: #1 A Public Transport Grid for Cardiff

In Cardiff, Metro presents a unique opportunity to develop a new integrated public transport grid right across the city (Figure 1). Some further metro rail measures and new cross city express bus services east to west which interchange with the metro lines to Pontypridd at Gabalfa and the Rhymey line at Wedal Rd (which also needs to be added to the scheme) will provide a real alternative to car use and the resulting congestion and air quality impacts. New public transport network planning capability, commercial arrangements and perhaps some bus franchising maybe needed.

An “on-street” extension could run from the new station at  “The Flourish”, behind the Millennium centre on Bute Place and Pierhead Street, then across the docks to the tidal sidings freight line via Splott/Tremorfa and onto the main line at Rover way.  This would connect Splott and Tremorfa to the network, open up huge development potential in the south of the city and docks, and provides a means to route some future tram-train services,  from say Ebbw Vale, to the city centre via Cardiff Bay, freeing up capacity at Cardiff Central.

Similarly the completion of the link between the bay line and Cardiff Central (at the south of the stations), probably to connect to the City Line, also presents a valuable extension opportunity linked with urban realm improvements all the way to Cardiff Bay along the current bay line & Lloyd George Avenue.

The use of the city line will likely require measures to address the current capacity issues on the rail network at Cardiff west.  In the 2013 Metro Impact study we identified  the potential to operate tram-trains on that route and construct a flyover at Cardiff West to in effect remove the junction.  Given the greater flexibility in operations and elevations/alignment that tram-train LRVs offer, then such a scheme is at least possible which would not have been the case had a pure Heavy Rail solution been proposed.

There is also the prospect of completing the Cardiff Circle Line at Radyr. There is probably a longer term opportunity to explore extensions from this core the NE of the City and to Ely and Culverhouse X.

There is a lot for Cardiff to think about!

Metro and Cardiff Bus network June 2018 D1.0

Figure 1 Using Metro to develop a high quality public transport grid across Cardiff

Options for the Future: Re-thinking the Region

Now that we have the foundation of a South Wales Metro on the starting blocks, we can begin to seriously think about how we can “rebuild” the region. The extendibility capability via tram-train is not just about on-street operations down into Cardiff Bay & city centre or extending the metro through the new Plas Dwyr housing in NW Cardiff onto Creigiau and Talbot Green.  It’s also about the re-imagining the whole of the region and using this new transport capability to enable a more equitable spread of economic activity across south east Wales.   This also means developing a statutory and much more strategic capacity to undertake land use planning in south east Wales on a regional basis – especially housing.

Given the application of tram-trains on much of the core valleys through Pontypridd – which enables more flexibility in developing new routes – then those involved in local development planning, economic development, community regeneration, housing, etc should be tasked to explore ways better connectivity can help sustainably grow the regional economy (see my Metro economic impact article for the Bevan Foundation in 2016).   From “bricks and mortar” agglomeration through to local and community focused interventions (see my recent speech for Wales in London (iii) week for a flavour). In doing so they should be thinking out to 2030 and beyond and developing ideas for future phases of the metro once the core is complete in the early to mid-2020s.

Much of the work set out in the 2013 Metro Impact Study (iv) now has a new relevance. The increasing importance of Pontypridd as a regional centre also demands that we consider how we can improve its accessibility even more than is provided by this next phase of Metro.

Options for the Future: #2 A Cross-Valley Tram-train Service

So, if I may, here’s a crazy idea to kick around! A x-valley tram-train service using a combination of existing, new and reinstated lines.  From Pontypool to Treherbert via Pontypridd, Nelson, Hengoed, Blackwood and Crumlin.  I don’t want to distract work on the next phase which has to be the focus to 2022/23/24…but we should perhaps allow ourselves to indulge a little in what an extended network might look like in the second half of the 2020s.

old mid valleys rail

Figure 2 Old x-valley line from Crumlin to Treharris as shown on a map from the 1940s

This route could augment north-south tram-train operations on the core valleys via Pontypridd and reconnect the mid-valleys east-west with rail for the first time since the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, before which passenger services operated all the way from Pontypool to Aberdare and beyond (Figure 2).

With a total length of ~50KM from Treherbert to Pontypool it would utilise ~30Km of existing rail infrastructure and require ~20Km of new rail, some of which can use old alignments (Figure 3 ) . There are clearly some challenges – for example the re-introduction of rail on the Hengoed viaduct and crossing the Ebbw Valley at Crumlin. There are also some topology and alignment challenges.  But we have done all this before….so it’s not so much an engineering challenge but an institutional and psychological challenge!

X-valley movement will become much easier, faster and more convenient.  High quality interchanges with frequent north-south services at place like Pontypool, Crumlin, Hengoed, Abercynon and Pontypridd north effectively delivers a high-quality, rail based, public transport grid covering the vast majority of the most densely populated parts of south east Wales.

Places like Blackwood, Oakdale Business Park, Pontypool and especially Pontypridd will have their accessibility dramatically enhanced, supporting more economic activity and helping both larger scale and local community focussed regeneration.

Such a scheme, or even the prospect of it, may enhance the potential of other extensions across the region: to Abertillery, north into Merthyr and to Hirwaun.

Figure 3 Potential x-valley Tram-train service from Pontypool to Treherbert

Yes, expensive – but now at least possible with tram-train capability able to operate on both the existing network, “on-street” or via alignments not possible with pure HR (which some of this route may need).

Key Features and Benefits:

  •  New high-quality 50Km x-valley rapid transit service for ~250,000 people (Fig 4 )
  • A total end to end journey time of perhaps one hour ten mins, Pontypridd to Blackwood in perhaps twenty five minutes
  • Brings Blackwood & Pontllanfraith (pop. ~50k) onto the rail network, the largest population centre in the valleys without a direct rail service
  • Provides a real and sustainable alternative to the car
  • Increases the “net effective” population density of the central valleys area – so more people can get to more places, more easily and more quickly
  • Will support further economic development at key centres such as Pontypridd, Ystrad Mynach/Tredomen Business Park & Blackwood with greatly increased employment catchments
  • It could also help grow the tourist and visitor economy across the valleys especially if linked to the development of the “valleys regional park”
  • Helps bring forward new “Transit Oriented Development” housing and mixed-use schemes – especially at/between Treharris and Ystrad Mynach
  • More options to better integrate with local bus services
  • Helps create a more balanced regional economy.
x-valley metro and popdensity

Figure 4 Overlay of route proposal with population distribution and density (v)

Yes, this is an expensive proposal (probably comparable with the cost of the Heads of the Valleys road) and may or may not have a good business case; and if there is a case, it may have to be delivered in phases or modified to ensure best value for money. But in my view, it is worth exploring.

If we are serious about really changing the future of the valleys for the better, then this is the kind of transport scheme that we need to consider.  We should not plan and appraise this scheme based on current transport movements and demand; instead we should appraise this scheme Vs the kind of region we are trying to create.

It’s taken 8 years to get Metro this far…I’d like to see this x-valley scheme operating by 2028!

PS – there is a Caerphilly – Newport opportunity  (the last SEWTA Rail strategy probably covered it (vi) ) and a route beyond NW Cardiff via M4J33 & Creigiau to Llantrisant/Talbot Green and Pontyclun (See Metro Impact Study); also some potential in Penarth. I’ll cover in future articles.

Disclaimer: This article is based on Mark Barry’s own ideas or those already in the public domain and not those of Transport for Wales, Welsh Government, Cardiff University or any other organisation.


  1. Mark Barry, “A Metro for Wales Capital City Region”, 2011; Cardiff Business Partnership & published by The Institute of Welsh Affairs;
  2. Prof Marquand, “South Wales Needs a Plan”, 1936, George Allen & Unwin Ltd
  4. Mark Barry & Metro Consortium, “Metro Impact Study” for Welsh Government, 2013
  5. Credit: Duncan Smith, at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London
  6. SEWTA 2013, Rail Strategy SEWTA Rail Strategy 2013

4 thoughts on “Making the Metro work for the Valleys and for Cardiff…

  1. Its in effect a “Tram/Light Rail Vehicle” that has the crash worthiness of a heavy rail vehicle – and so, subject to regulatory approvals and appropriate design specification, could operate on NR/Heavy Rail infrastructure.


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