Cardiff Council have just announced a key component in their developing transport vision – A Cardiff Crossrail. This is part of a wider rapid transit network for the city (using Bus Rapid Transit and Tram-train) Figure 1 and which builds upon the improvements and leverages the capabilities, to be delivered as part of the next phase of the South Wales Metro Figure 11. I was pleased to be able to help Cardiff Council bring these proposals forward.
Figure 1 Proposed Cardiff Rapid Transit Network
Cardiff Crossrail will transform connectivity across the city and open up areas for new development and regeneration form Plas Dwr & Fairwater through Canton, Central Quay and Butetown to Splott, Tremorfa and onto Cardiff Parkway.
This will help address the primary issue facing Cardiff; it is dealing with the legacy of a transport network designed for a city with less than 300,000 people but needing to develop a network for one with more than 400,000 at the heart of a city region of 1.6 million people, with increasing numbers of those people wishing to travel to/from and across the city.
I have written about a Cardiff Crossrail on a number of occasions over the last few years following publication of my first thoughts on the concept in 2012/3:
- Institute of Welsh Affairs Article in 2013[i]
- Rail Professional article in 2013[ii]
- Metro and Me in 2018[iii]
- M4 Article in June this year[iv]
- Cardiff Bay Line Article[v]
- We also covered its component parts in the 2013 Metro Impact Study[vi]
Now it has raised its profile again, but this time with intent. This is as a result of the application of tram-train technology currently being implemented by Transport for Wales[vii] on the valley lines through Pontypridd and more importantly the commitment of Cardiff Council[viii][ix] to actively support/promote the scheme.
This demonstrates the ambition we need right across the region to really build a Metro Development plan out to 2030 that benefits the whole region. More recently the decision to cancel the M4 relief road brings into sharp relief the need to provide viable alternatives to car travel across the region.
Key Challenges…What is the Problem?
Before I get into what it might look like, let’s set out some issue/challenges and perhaps the key problems it needs to address.
This needs to be set with the context of a “Climate Change Emergency” which requires more radical intervention across all policy areas and the implicit requirement for a much greater role for public transport and active travel in our mobility ecosystem.
Transport connectivity also plays an important role in determining both economic and well-being outcomes, therefore it is crucial that we improve intra-city connectivity and reduce journey times to enhance access to employment opportunities.
As the capital city of Wales, Cardiff also fulfils a significant role as the regional and national centre for a number of organisations and facilities. This results in a significant number of retail, leisure and tourism visitors to the city many of whom originate from outside the city itself.
We also need to reduce the impacts of the long-term induced demand for car usage which is damaging our environment. I covered some of these issues in my article on Transit Oriented Development in the Cardiff Capital Region[x] earlier in 2019.
Cars still dominate our mobility
There is another harsh reality to face when dealing with this issue. Across Wales, most of us commute in cars; in fact in 2017 Figure 2 over 80% of us used cars with only 4% on train and another 4% on bus. In Cardiff these figures are better, but still over 50% of all journeys are made in a car; whilst rail and bus use is less than 20%!
Figure 2 Welsh Gov, 2017 Mode Share in Wales for Commuting
Today the rail network from the valleys into Cardiff only handles about 12% of total demand; services are poor and unattractive versus alternative modes – especially car. The contracted Metro solution will enable a doubling of capacity of the network into Cardiff and drive more demand. However, there may be a need assess whether this is sufficient over the next 15 years. Perhaps we should be planning on much more…I think we should.
Most people in Cardiff have little or no access to rail services!
Figure 3 Access to rail from most densely populated parts of SE Wales
The 2103 Metro Impact Study found that the highest and most densely populated parts of South East Wales with the least access to rail services are in Newport and the East of Cardiff Figure 3. In fact many people in Cardiff have no access to rail services and those that are near a local station are perhaps only offered services of 2tph (e.g. City Line and Coryton Line) making other options (including the car) more attractive. After the next phase of Metro in 2023/4, less than 25% of the population of Cardiff will be within 800M of a Metro rail station offering 4 or more services an hour; by contrast the equivalent figure for RCT is 34%.
This is important given need to support more employment in places like Pontypridd, Nantgarw, Newport, Merthyr, etc – as most of the population of Cardiff can’t access such locations without a car and so will contribute to peak time road congestion without an alternative.
So, it’s not just about getting to Cardiff city centre, it’s about making it easier for more people to get to other places, so that we can support a more polycentric city region.
For example, I am sure some businesses would prefer not to be in Cardiff paying £20+ per sq. ft when then could be paying less in Pontypridd. The constraint on such is how many staff can get to Pontypridd easily. Without further interventions the well-meaning intentions of locating new offices for TfW in Pontypridd and DWP in Nantgarw, will be undermined if more people can’t get to those locations more easily from across the region. This includes from across Cardiff which is the most densely populated local authority in Wales and whose wider “Built Up Area” (BUA) is amongst the most densely populated in the UK[xi].
Cardiff is a fast growing City
Figure 4 Mid-year population estimates 1991 to 2017
Whilst the population of the wider region is expected to grow by perhaps 100k to 1.6M by 2030, over 50% of that growth is expected to be in Cardiff itself with numbers expected to grow from 365,000 in 2017[xii] Figure 4 ; projections suggest it will grow to 400,000 by the middle of the next decade which maintains a trend since 2000 when the city’s population was only 310,000.
Figure 5 Cardiff Population Growth
In addition Cardiff is also a major employer and centre for the wider city region. Statistics on commuting[xiii] suggest that in 2018, nearly 90,000 people commute into Cardiff every day and a further 140,000 from within the city itself making up over 230,000 working in the city representing 34% of total employment in South East Wales.
Cardiff is not the Emerald City
Whilst there is economic growth and more employment in Cardiff, it doesn’t tell the whole story – there are some real challenges in some parts of the city.
The Gross Value Added (GVA) per capita of Cardiff and The Vale of Glamorgan[xiv] is currently around 95% of the UK average having fallen from a figure of 100% in 2003. Overall GVA per capita is lower in Wales than in any other UK country or region. Whilst Cardiff’s GVA per capita is just below the UK average, other parts of the region are significantly lower, for example the Central Valleys which is about 60%. That’s why developing a Metro that can support more employment in places like Merthyr and Pontypridd is so important. I am also very conscious that in many parts of the region more imaginative economic development and regeneration interventions are required.
Figure 6 GVA per capita versus 2016 UK average
The last ten years have seen a growth in service sector employment in the city whilst other sectors such as manufacturing now employ less people. These trends have led to areas of denser employment typically located in the city centre.
This contrast with some major economic and social challenges in other parts of the city – which has 18% of its Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs) in the top 10% of Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation[xv] ( in places like Ely, Rumney, Llanrumney and Llanederyn Figure 7 Figure 8; many of these correlate to parts of the city with poor connectivity.
Figure 7 Cardiff has 10% of its LSOA in top 10% of most deprived LSOAs on WIMD in Wales
We also face an uncertain economic future with wider global forces, Artificial Intelligence and Climate Change likely to mean major changes to how our economies function. Nonetheless, no matter what transpires, I am convinced that we will need much better public transport.
Cardiff Council’s LDP adopted in 2016 proposes significant additional areas of employment and housing (for example the major developments in the NW of the City). It is also likely that in the period to 2030 new sites may come forward and/or be enabled by improved accessibility and densification of existing areas. The development of Metro on a regional basis also needs to be integrated with the plans for a Strategic Development Plan for the region.
Figure 9 Cardiff LDP Diagram
Cardiff’s primary development issue is, perhaps, the transport challenge associated with the major housing planned in the NW of the city over the next 15 years. Whilst I am no fan of unnecessary green field development, I acknowledge there will always be a need for some. However, in bringing forward such plans we must ensure public transport, active travel, mixed used and development density are fully integrated. The Cardiff Crossrail and the extension into RCT from NW Cardiff does provide an opportunity to revise plans to ensure more development density along route. Without Cardiff Crossrail I am not sure we can justify such a large development which will inevitably generate many more car journeys without a viable public transport alternative. This is something we also looked at in the 2013 Metro Impact Study Figure 10 .
Figure 10 Illustration of NW Corridor proposals from 2103 Metro Impact Study
What will Metro deliver….
Welsh Government, via Transport for Wales, awarded a new rail contract to KeolisAmey (branded Transport for Wales Rail Services) in 2018 which will deliver major improvements in the network of rail routes and services which connect to Cardiff by 2024 as part of the South Wales Metro.
The key features of Metro solution relevant to Cardiff are:
- New Heavy Rail ‘Tri-mode’ trains on the Rhymney Line which can be powered by overhead electrification, on-board batteries or diesel engine. These trains operate from Caerphilly (6tph) and Coryton (2tph). Services will operate through Cardiff Central to the to the Vale of Glamorgan (VoG) line and destinations to Penarth and Bridgend.
- Tram-train Light Rail Metro Vehicles Figure 12 will operate from Treherbert (4tph), Aberdare (4tph) and Merthyr Tydfil (4tph) via Pontypridd (12tph) with ten of these services travelling to Cardiff Central/Cardiff Bay via the Llandaff branch and two travelling to Cardiff Central via the City Line.
- New stations will be added to the network at Loudon Square (Butetown), opposite the Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff Bay) Crwys Road and Gabalfa.
Figure 11 TfW Illustration of Metro rail proposed by 2023
What it won’t deliver…
The Metro will provide an upgrade in rail services and experience across the region and the city. However, the contracted solution does result in some compromises for local Cardiff services as detailed in a paper I submitted to the Economy, Infrastructure and Skills Committee at the National Assembly (November 2018)[xvii] namely:
- 2tph services on the Coryton and City Lines will limit the ability of Metro to provide an effective alternative to the car in some parts of Cardiff; as a minimum these lines should be 4tph (the same as the rest of the core valley network).
- Exclusive use of the Tri-mode trains on the Rhymney and Coryton lines is a constraint on potential future extensions beyond Coryton and perhaps the Cardiff Circle.
- Vale of Glamorgan and City Line services (and therefore the potential North West Corridor) are restricted by capacity constraints of rail routes at Cardiff West junction in Canton.
- There are still good cases for further stations in the city on the existing network. These include Roath Park, Rover Way and Ely Mill.
Metro Extendibility Capability
Figure 12 City Link Light Rail Tram-train “Metro Vehicles”
The contracted solution from TfW Rail enables both network and services extensions such as the Cardiff Crossrail, through the application of tram-trains which allows more cost and engineering flexibility than is possible with a pure Heavy Rail solution. They can operate on tighter curves, steeper gradients, require shorter passing loops as well running “on-street” and operating to Line of Sight “tramway” protocols. This presents significant opportunities across the region as well as in Cardiff (See my paper from 2018[xviii]).
Emerging Vision for Transport in Cardiff
Core to Cardiff’s transport vision, therefore, is the incremental development of a Rapid Transit Network as illustrated in Figure 1.
This network will augment the new stations and services proposed as part of the South Wales Metro, exploit tram-train technology and make use of existing and new rail corridors. These rail-based interventions will be integrated with new bus priority corridors, a redesigned bus network and active travel measure to dramatically enhance public transport and active travel accessibility across the city.
I’ll focus on the Cardiff Crossrail & Circle lines here (I’ll cover buses and active travel in a future article)
Core to the emerging vision of Cardiff Council is the incremental development of a “Cardiff Crossrail” Figure 13 using tram-train technology being introduced as part of the South Wales Metro. This will be the essential foundation of an ambitious long-term programme to encourage more public transport use across the city.
Figure 13 Illustration of a potential Cardiff Crossrail
There are 4 distinct sections which can be phased:
#1 Cardiff Central/Lloyd George Avenue (LGA)/Cardiff Bay
This section will provide a direct connection between Cardiff Bay and Cardiff Central
The application of tram-trains on the bay line can also be a catalyst for a major landscaping and regeneration project – A Greenway. Greenway projects re-purpose older industrial artefacts in cities to form new community spaces combining green space, active travel and public transport with community regeneration and development projects.
Figure 32 Illustration of potential Vancouver Arbutus Greenway Light Rail [xix]
Learning from examples like the Arbutus Greenway in Vancouver[xx], Cardiff Council could repurpose the existing bay line corridor incorporating some new development but also green spaces and active travel routes.
#2 Cardiff West Junction & City Line
This section requires early action to address the network constraint at Cardiff West to enable at least 4tph on City Line, more services to VoG/Penarth and to enable a later extension to NW Cardiff. It will also provide major network benefits (increased capacity and redundancy) as it enables an alternative high capacity route from the valley lines into Central Station and to the bay (avoiding Queen St). A new station can also be introduced at Victoria Park/Ely Mill and the role of Waungron Park as a bus interchange will become much more important with this improved rail services offering. This section will also include a link between the city line at the western end of Cardiff Central to the extended bay line (#1 above) to Cardiff Central.
#3 Wales Millennium Centre (WMC) to Rover Way/Newport Rd (including the potential to connect to Porth Teigr).
A new station at Rover Way will interchange with main line rail services and support a bus interchange for access to the east of the city. The service could also be extended on the relief lines to Cardiff Parkway and beyond. This section requires a new link from the WMC across pierhead street through the docks to an upgraded Tidal Sidings freight line which can also support additional stations including Splott/Tremorfa and at/near Ocean Way in an area that it poorly served by rail and is also in the top 10% of WIMD.
#4 NW Cardiff extension to RCT from the City Line
This is an entirely new section that can be phased and serve the new housing at PlasDwr, support a major P&R at M4 J33 and run through Creigiau and onto Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) via Talbot Green to Pontyclun; a potential for a spur to Beddau can also be considered. This route provides an opportunity to develop complementary higher density housing and mixed-use schemes using Transit Oriented Development principles along the entire route.
Complementary Schemes: Cardiff Circle & Tram-train to Penarth
Figure 14 Illustration of potential Cardiff Circle line
- To complement the Crossrail proposals and to deliver better E-W connectivity across the north of the city a new connection between the Coryton Line and Radyr/Taffs Well is proposed to create a Cardiff Circle Figure 14
- Once network capacity issues are addressed it will be possible to operate tram-trains to Penarth to allow extension to Lower Penarth/Cosmeston
There are a wide range of benefits that can be secured from the development of a rapid transit network in Cardiff. Perhaps the most important are:
- Most importantly the provision of a public transport service able to sustainably support mobility for a city of over 400,000 people at the heart of a developing city region 1.6M people
- Improved cross city connectivity and accessibility of parts of Cardiff (especially when combined with major bus interchanges and a redesigned bus network) suffering economic challenges (including Splott, Tremorfa and Ely which are in the top 10% of Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD)
- Development and community regeneration across the southern arc of Cardiff from PlasDwr, Fairwater and Ely in the west through Central Quay, Butetown and Cardiff Bay to Tremorfa, Splott, Rover Way and Cardiff Parkway in the east; as well as Gabalfa, Forest Farm, Roath Park and Heath Hospital in the north.
- Addressing transport constraints associated with the PlasDwr development and helping bring forward further Transit Oriented Development (TOD) along the route into RCT (all the way via Talbot Green to Pontyclun).
- Transforming the Bay Line into an urban park via a regeneration and development project that can fully integrate Butetown into the wider city
- A direct metro connection between Cardiff Bay and Cardiff Central
- A major Park & Ride at M4J33
- Station based development and regeneration initiatives along the line
- Improved employment catchment of Newport, Bridgend, Barry, Pontypridd as well as Cardiff City Centre and Bay.
Furthermore, extending Cardiff Crossrail to Cardiff Parkway (and beyond) on the relief lines to the east, would support direct services (via tidal sidings) to the new arena proposed in Cardiff Bay.
Perhaps most strategically, addressing the rail network constraint at Cardiff West junction in Canton delivers more network capacity and redundancy to the lines into the valleys north of Cardiff and to Penarth and Barry on the Vale of Glamorgan line.
The Cardiff Circle proposal will also deliver better E-W connectivity across the north of the city and perhaps more importantly, help enhance the employment catchment of Merthyr, Pontypridd & Nantgarw as more of the significant population of north and north east Cardiff would be able to travel to those locations using public transport far more easily than is the case today.
Welsh Government and Transport for Wales need a pat on the back!
We have to step back here and give credit where credit is due. Transport for Wales (TfW) did not exist until 2015. Yet less than three years later it had concluded the biggest and most complex procurement in Welsh Government (WG) history. That is pretty impressive and should tell us that we should not be so down on ourselves so much of the time – it’s a Welsh trait that is not always helpful!
I would also point out for the record that without devolution there would be no South Wales Metro or any prospect of a Cardiff Crossrail. Under the stewardship of the DfT and UK Government schemes like this just don’t happen. I covered this broader powers and lack of rail investment issue for WG in 2018 in ,”The Case for Investment”.[xxi]
Therefore, Welsh Government and TfW are to be congratulated for pushing the South Wales Metro, despite that fact that rail infrastructure is a non-devolved matter and UK funding (which should in my view have covered all the capex) only makes up a small proportion of the £734M for the next phase of Metro.
Similarly we should also support the leadership and officials at Cardiff Council for embracing the potential of Metro through schemes like Cardiff Crossrail. Its that kind of leadership and not just lines on a map that make projects like these a reality.
Fundamental to the delivery of Crossrail are measures to address the network capacity at Cardiff West and how the city line connects to the bay line south of Cardiff Central. A detailed feasibility and timetabling study is needed to fully assess the options to help ensure early progress on this essential component.
Early action on this matter will vitally enable an increase in service frequency on the City Line; when combined with enhancement at for example, Danescourt station and improved bus interchange, the new developments in NW Cardiff could initially be served by a local bus service connecting to rail services at Danescourt? Similarly, bus interchange at a new Ely Mill/Victoria Park station could be connected to better bus services from Ely.
The scheme in totality or in sections also needs to be subject to Business Case Development using Welsh Government’s Transport Appraisal Guidelines and detailed scheme development – this when we get into the details re: specifics of routes, alignments, services and stations. Transport for Wales and Network Rail (esp. as regards Cardiff West) will need to be part of the core team, with Transport for Wales leading on its development and delivery.
These proposals also require a major planning programme as some works require a Transport Works Act Order (TWAO) and so much necessary public engagement and consultation.
The recent cancellation of the M4 relief also means the region needs to develop complementary schemes, including for Newport and the Eastern Valleys, to help deliver a major shift to public transport. I set out some suggestions for a public transport concept for the M4 corridor[xxii] in a recent blog.
We also need to get our heads around the funding; the capex for all of the above is probably in the range £0.5Bn ~ £1Bn and will be associated with further revenue costs to provide necessary subsidy. I am persuaded we need a road user charge. This can be phased in, but we have to start apportioning the full environment and external costs of personal car use if we are to develop alternatives with sufficient scale and capacity to encourage a major modal shift. There are also potential development related and other funding sources we need to explore. We do need a conversation on this matter and acknowledge the need to make tough choices if any of these proposals are to be implemented.
These proposals now embraced by Cardiff Council, are a natural extension to the next phase of Metro to be delivered by 2023/4 and should be part of a wider regional Metro Development programme out to 2030 and beyond. This last point is key; as I have set out before, there is also potential to develop equally ambitious schemes in/around Newport and across the valleys that merit further development.
[xvi] Welsh Government, 2014
[xxi] Mark Barry, 2018, Welsh Government, “The Case for Investment” https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2018-12/the-rail-network-in-wales-case-for-investment.pdf
Barry, 2011, IWA/Cardiff Business Partnership, “A Metro for Wales Capital City