A summary of this blog appeared in the Business Section of the Western Mail in March 2022
There has been some recent coverage in the media and some social media chatter about Wales’ Metro projects, their status and what they might deliver. Given my involvement in all of them – Cardiff/South Wales since 2010 and Swansea following my first blog on a Swansea Metro in 2018 and my broader work at that time for Welsh Government (WG) set out in The Case for Investment – I thought a little update would help.
As it was way back in 2010, the metro concept is for me, primarily about three things, which I have embellished with current thinking below:
- Connecting more people to more places using public transport (rail and/or bus) via high quality, frequent and integrated public transport services. I set out some of the theory being applied by Transport for Wales (TfW) and practical considerations thereof to help develop multi-modal public transport grids in a blog earlier this year
- Developed and delivered in a way that enables local development and regeneration and especially Transit Oriented Development (TOD). This is where our local authorities and regions need to step up re: planning and the need to enable the development of places that are not car dependent
- The third and now perhaps most important, is to deliver on our climate change obligations to encourage mode shift and decarbonise our mobility choices. The recent publication of the Wales Transport Strategy and more recently of Net Zero Wales, set out challenging targets with a reduced car mode share of just 60% by 2030. What this means in my view, is much more public transport capacity, more active travel and some form of road pricing ( the evidence is overwhelming!).
I also want to share a quote by the famous US Architect Daniel Burnham (thanks to Tim Williams in Sydney for recently making me aware of it) which I think is also apt, “ ‘Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized’.
Today, TfW is leading the strategic development of Metros and major transport schemes in Wales. This is a capability I have helped establish at TfW over the last two years, which is now being delivered by a number of very capable and committed transport planning professionals via a number of formal development programmes within TfW’s Planning and Development Directorate. To be clear, this is distinct from the actual operational and implementation activities related to current contracted commitments as part of the ongoing Wales and Borders franchise and South Wales Metro programme. TfW’s Metro development programmes are focused on the period 2024-2030 and beyond.
In my view, what WG and local authorities have typically done in the past was to bring forward smaller and more tactical stand-alone mode focussed interventions perhaps unconsciously limited by annual budget limitations and constraints on delivery capability. This leaves officials exposed to smaller more politically inspired schemes that don’t really make sense from a strategic perspective. The calls for a stand-alone Velindre Parkway station on the Swansea district Line (SDL) is one such example. Now, via TfW’s work in Swansea Bay and West Wales with the local authorities, the underlying requirements of that scheme have been better assessed and solutions appraised as part of the larger and more strategic Swansea Bay and West Wales Metro programme (see below).
In 2019, TfW was still very much a procurement engine and contract management organisation set up to procure the Wales and Borders rail franchise. Since then, TfW has developed a strategic thinking mind able to bring forward major programmes of joined up transport schemes in partnership with WG, NR and Local Authorities across Wales. This is not only based on the growing expertise and capability of TfW’s Planning Directorate, but of very sophisticated transport models that now cover all of Wales, as well as pragmatic application of the Welsh Transport Appraisal Guidelines (WelTAG) with an intent to bring forward fewer, bigger and more strategic packages of interventions. This work also includes the perhaps more complex and challenging task of integrating bus services as part of our metros – both in terms of services and networks, and of fares/ticketing.
In respect of rail, these programmes also reflect WG objectives and ambitions, as set out for example in: A railway for Wales: the case for devolution (gov.wales), mainline-railway-enhancement-requirements.pdf (gov.wales) and The Rail Network in Wales (gov.wales) as well as the recommendations of the South East Wales Transport Commission (SEWTC). The recent Union Connectivity Review (UCR), in the main, endorsed the emerging programmes in respect of the SWML and NWML.
These regionally structured programmes are multi modal in nature and focussed on strategic regional schemes – bus, rail and active travel – as well as in some cases local station regeneration schemes. There is an expectation that more local and fine grain schemes will be developed and progressed by local authorities.
It is also worth restating that the overwhelming majority of trips that we need to decarbonise are more local and intra-regional. In fact, it is only about 7% trips in Wales that actually cross the border, and these are in north west Wales and south east Wales those cross-border movements to Chester/Cheshire/Wirral and Bristol/Bath respectively. A local intra-regional focus is also consistent with one of the priority findings of the 2006 Edington Transport Study, in that most of our mobility challenges and issues are intra-regional…
“…On this basis, the strategic economic priorities for long-term transport policy should be growing and congested urban areas and their catchments….”
As I have set out in an earlier transport planning blog, whilst perhaps there are some clearly “wrong answers” in transport planning terms, there are seldom obvious “right answers”, there are only choices and implications, shaped by policy priorities. TfW is now able to help WG make those choices based on its developing strategic and analytical capacity and capability.
It is also not possible to achieve 100% consistency and make everyone happy in this endeavour, as the world looks very different through the lens of one local authority, city region, NR, DfT or even WG vs TfW, which sits at the confluence of a very large number of different requests and expectations – some of which are in conflict. The challenge of curating strategic programmes that make sense from both a transport planning perspective and a political one should not be underestimated.
These longer term programmes also build on the current contracted project to enhance Wales & Borders rail service through additional services and new rolling stock into 2023/4, and to develop and deliver the next phase of the south Wales metro via the transformation of the core valley lines. That south Wales metro work is well advanced as the new tram-train depot emerging at Taffs Well demonstrates; I penned a few words on this recently for some of the rail trade press.
In October 2021, the deputy minister for Climate Change, Lee Waters, set out WG ambitions for Metro through the work being undertaken across Wales by TfW, and illustrated in a series of Metro maps and narrative now available on the TfW website.
In this blog, I’d like to go a little further. The strategic development work undertaken by TfW over the last two to three years via WelTAG 1 and 2 studies and Strategic Outline Cases has, in the main, answered the “what should we do, and why?” questions. We are now facing the harder perhaps, “How much will it cost, who will pay, how and when?” questions. The more detailed work planned over the next 12-18 months via scheme and Outline and Full Business Case development will help answer these questions. I would also observe that this TfW development work provides the majority of content that one might argue needs to be included in upcoming CJC regional transport plans which as a consequence can be “lighter touch”.
I have set out in other blogs some of the emerging Metro proposals. So just in summary here, the main components of the current programmes (so not everything) with the Metro maps issued by TfW, plus some further personal embellishment(!) out to 2029/30 and the early 2030s, are:
Swansea Bay & West Wales Metro Programme Emerging Priorities to 2029
Figure 1 Wider West Wales Emerging Metro Priorities to 2029
Figure 2 Swansea Bay Emerging Metro Priorities to 2029
There is an emerging package of measure to 2029/30 of perhaps £500~600M (of which £400M is for an initial tranche of essential rail enhancements) that can be linked to interventions that enable the re-location of employment (eg the DVLA) and public services back to key transport hubs around the region; especially to Neath, Swansea, Carmarthen (which is the best location for a West Wales Parkway), Haverfordwest, etc. The key interventions include:
- Enhanced local rail services west of Swansea all the way to Milford Haven aligned to a range of tactical infrastructure enhancement – these complement some of the SWML measures set out below
- An initial phase of the Swansea/Neath/Llanelli urban area rail metro including perhaps 6 new stations on the SWML and SDL (for example Morriston, Llandarcy, Penllergaer, Landore, Velindre, Cockett, etc) and a new curve connection between the SDL and SWML north of Britton Ferry to allow through service from the SDL direct to Swansea. This will enable services from: i) Pontarddulais via Neath to Swansea High Street and ii) Bury Port to Swansea high Street
- This foundation can form the basis of further expansion into the 2030s aligned to complementary planning guidance re land use around transit
- A range of local bus prioritisation and segregation measures – esp. in the urban areas of Swansea, Neath and Llanelli. This work will be aligned with further optimisation of bus networks and greater integration with enhanced rail services. The bus project is also exploring decarbonised fleet options
- A range of station and interchange enhancement to support both local development and more effective rail/bus/active travel integration.
Much of this work is well advanced via formal WelTAG studies which also required public consultation during 2021. Much of the detail is available on WG web site.
Cardiff and Capital Region Metro Emerging Priorities to 2029
Figure 3 Cardiff and Capital Region Metro Programme Emerging Priorities to 2029
There is likely a package of priority interventions of £1~1.5Bn covering NR’s rail asset (so the responsibly of the DfT and UK Government (and probably est. £600M of the total), CVL (so a WG responsibility), bus and active travel measures. This programme is a subset of, and consistent with, the recently published CCR Passenger Rail Vision which I helped prepare in 2020/21. That report also set out a range of transport enabled local economic development and regeneration opportunities including Cardiff Parkway, Newport City Centre, Cardiff Central/Bay, Bridgend Town Centre, Merthyr, Pontypridd, etc. It is also consistent with Cardiff Council’s ambitions for schemes like the Cardiff Crossrail in its Transport White Paper.
The major components include:
- Some major BRT and bus segregation/priority measure in and between Newport and Cardiff; this is an opportunity for early implementation of some of the recommendations of the SEWTC
- A package of CVL enhancement to follow the introduction of new electric tram-train and tri-mode services in 2023/4. This will include 7 or 8 further stations to extend the reach of the network (so Ely Mill, Nantgarw, Gabalfa, Upper Boat, Pontypridd Bus Station, Roath Park, etc) and early measures to enable 4tph on the City Line (the NR Cardiff West Jn needs sorting!) and Coryton Line (which should have been 4tph from the outset!) in Cardiff. This will deliver much enhanced integrated public transport in the most populated part of Wales and will likely be a major component of the CO2 emissions reduction required
- Frequency enhancement to Ebbw Valley (4tph) and Maesteg (2tph); like the City and Coryton lines in Cardiff need interventions to give passenger a more useful and appropriate service frequency
- The section of Cardiff Crossrail from Cardiff Central via the Bay to Splott/Tremorfa to and interchange with the SWML at Newport Rd/Rover Way (with the potential for the tram-trains to operate onto the SWML serving new local stations and so avoiding potential capacity constraints at Cardiff Central)
- The CVL extension from Aberdare – to Hirwaun providing enhanced access to the Brecon Beacons and the A465
- Some cross Valley bus prioritisation measures to help build the regional strategic PT grid as set out in the CCR Passenger Rail Vision
- NW Corridor (from Cardiff to lower RCT) bus and BRT measures integrated with 4tph on the City Line and enhanced rail service frequency at Pontyclun in advance of a comprehensive tram-train solution which is likely to be into the early 2030s
- Working with NR to secure early electrification of the VoG line to Barry/Penarth – this will enable all electric operation of CVL services to Barry and the application of tram-train to Penarth (and so make possible extension south of Penarth station) and integration of Penarth tram-train services with Crossrail via a new connection at Cardiff Central, and with Coryton line services, which also need conversion to tram-train operations to enable the later link to Radyr (Cardiff Circle)
The South Wales Mainline (SWML) Programme Emerging Priorities to 2029
Figure 4 SWML Programme Emerging Priorities to 2029
Stretching from Milford Haven to Bristol Temple Meads this mainline is a key piece of the UKs transport infrastructure and needs a 10-year enhancement programme of perhaps £1.5Bn (with an initial tranche of £600/700M for the urgent Burns recommendations asap!). This corridor connects over 3M people and is a major component of the UK economy. The emerging priorities build on earlier work such as SEWTA Rail Strategy in 2011/2, 2013 Metro Impact Study, The Case for Investment in Wales Rail Network in 2018 and importantly Lord Burns’ South-East Wales Transport Commission in 2020 and Sir Peter Hendy via the Union Connectivity Review Report in 2021.
This programme will cover:
- Linespeed & capacity improvements to bring it up to approaching the same capability as the other “mainlines” in the UK (esp. WCML, ECML and GWML)
- Additional express and all stopper services. Including faster services from Cardiff to Carmarthen (which is the optimal location for a “West Wales Parkway” vs earlier suggestion at Felindre which would encourage longer car trips ) and West Wales, and further Bristol Temple Meads (BTM) – Cardiff services as recommended by Lord Burns’ South East Wales Transport Commission
- A number of new stations to support the new all stopper commuter services, including consideration of: Magor, Llanwern, Newport East, Newport West, Cardiff Parkway, Newport Rd/Rover Way, Landore, Cockett
- This combination of rail services and stations will deliver the essential public transport backbone across South Wales and are vital to give improved local bus services and BRT in Newport and East Cardiff something to integrate with. They will also complement further enhancements to the South Wales Metro and the introduction of a Metro in Swansea Bay -see above
- We also need to deliver electrification to Swansea/Carmarthen from Cardiff, and into Bristol Temple Meads; this will help enable all electric rolling stock options on BTM-Swansea services and reduce the costs of the Swansea/Neath Urban area Metro (see above).
North Wales Metro Programme Emerging Priorities to 2029
Figure 5 North Wales Metro Emerging Priorities to 2029
There is already significant political and regional stakeholder support for an initial programme of perhaps £500M that will help reduce the primacy of car use, especially in NE Wales and help support economic development and regeneration at places like Wrexham, Deeside Industrial Estate and Chester. Priority schemes include:
- Introduction of line speed, capacity and reliability enhancements on the NWML – esp. in around/Chester; 3 or 4 new stations and importantly the introduction of dedicated local all stop commuter services on the NWML which is essential to enable effective rail/bus integration across north Wales
- To complement the NWML measure, a range of measure to enable the Borderlands line to support 2tph with new and upgraded station (inc. Shotton and Deeside) and service extension to Birkenhead. The full ambition is for 4tph and eventual full integration with the Merseyrail network
- In the longer term NWML electrification and service integration with HS2 via Crewe and Northern Powerhouse Rail
- Like in the CCR and Swansea Bay a range of complementary bus prioritisation/ segregation measures as part of a comprehensive rail/bus integration programme. Local Active Travel measures are also being developed.
This is perhaps the most institutionally challenging programme, in what still is a de-regulated industry ( a legacy of the Thatcher Government’s 1985 Transport Act which has stymied bus/rail and multi-operator integration across the UK outside London ever since), with multiple private operators and where local authorities have primary responsibility for matters such as bus support grants and highway powers to enable bus lanes and bus priority and segregation etc.
The biggest benefit TfW can deliver is in enabling multi-modal integrated fares and ticketing so that at least in the main metro urban areas we can deliver, for example, simple multi modal and multi operator fares/tickets and a capped PAYG multi-modal transport system.
This is not just about an “Oyster card” type offer – we have to deal with the commercial and contractual relationship between operators and negotiate how fare revenues are apportioned between operators and implement the technical systems and infrastructure to enable this commercial back office integration; this is not a trivial challenge and the team at TfW is making good progress in a collaborative approach with bus operators.
Legislation will also be required to make it easier for WG and TfW to develop joined up rail and bus networks, and to specify and procure franchised bus services (to start to reverse the 1985 Transport Act). PostScript March 2022 – Good to see Welsh Government initiate a consultation on its planned bus legislation and also that TfW has now acquired Traveline Cymru – another essential component of a truly integrated transport service.
TfW is also working to enhance and decarbonise bus fleets across Wales as well as introducing innovative services like Fflecsi (which is a modern manifestation of the Bwcabws scheme). It is this degree of integration, which whilst a challenge to achieve, will eventually deliver the single joined up public transport network we deserve, and necessary to attract people out of theirs cars and to help deliver on our collective decarbonisation obligations.
Next Steps and challenges…
This is the first time in Wales that we have managed to develop strategic programmes for major multi-modal transport schemes at this scale, and over the next 12-18 months these programmes will, in most cases, move through to outline and/or full business case status. Many of these schemes will likely appear in a new WG National Transport Plan which may be available for consultation later this year. So, credit to WG for supporting and enabling this work. Let’s not stop now!
As I set out in my submission to “Great British Railways” call for evidence these emerging TfW programmes lead to an obvious question. Why is that NR/DfT, as the custodians of the Wales rail network over the last 20 years, were never able to bring forward some of the positive schemes that WG/TfW have in the last 5~10 years? For, me this is a manifestation of the systemic failure of the UK rail industry eco system and further exemplifies the need to fully devolve rail powers and funding to Welsh Government.
Aside from ongoing development funding, much of what is needed requires capital funding of about £3.5~4Bn over 10-15 years to build, with services that may require £30-50m in additional operational subsidy. This challenge is complicated by the fact that much of the rail asset (apart from the Core Valley Line) is NR kit and so the responsibility of the UK Government and a transport and planning ecosystem that favours and subsidises car use.
So, to have any chance of delivering these programmes and our broader decarbonisation objectives, in my view we need:
- Serious UK Government engagement and commitment to lead the funding of the NR Rail elements to complement Welsh contributions. A joint WG and UK Government commitment could be pitched as a decarbonisation, sustainable economic development and levelling up programme. Perhaps along the lines of that set out here: Levelling Up, Working Together? A Transport Enhancement Programme for Wales – Mark Barry (swalesmetroprof.blog) . The current CCR City Deal and North Wales Growth Deal could be modified to formally include these regional Metro programmes to 2030; and the West Wales Swansea Bay Metro should be revised to include these proposals as it currently lacks a transport component. The roles of Growth Track 360 and the Western Gateway could also be important in providing cross border stakeholder support, as could the north Wales Transport Commission. To note, it was a similar but perhaps smaller scale “deal” in 2014/5 that allowed the UK Gov and WG to progress the current South Wales Metro programme
- Road Pricing is an inevitable reality, let’s get on with it in Wales, we have to end the subsidy car owners and users currently enjoy– my rationale set out here Climate Change, Cars & Challenges – Mark Barry (swalesmetroprof.blog). The “elephant in the room” is that the most cost effective means of dealing with road congestion is to price road use – not build more road space which just induces more demand as the DfT itself found in its review of the academic literature; and in congested urban aeras with an elasticity of new capacity V induced demand of over 1 in some circumstances. The House of Commons Transport Committee at Westminster came to broadly the same conclusions in its Report on Road Pricing earlier this year. We also need to go further and, for example, remove free and or subsidised parking, and fiscally penalise out of town offices and retail with excessive parking
- Reduce public transport fares – many people and households don’t own cars and find public transport costs a challenge, so we have to cross subsidise from road pricing scheme to enable lower cost fares as well as service capital funding. Remember we currently subsidise car use and over-price the passenger (given the positive externalities) for public transport – this needs to be addressed in a fundamental way
- A much greater focus on Transit Oriented Development and a focus on town and city centres for development to reduce need for car based out of town offices, retail, public services, etc. Welsh Government have now acknowledged that much of the damage to our high streets has been caused by the vast amount of car based low density sprawl, especially housing, offices and retail that over the last 50 years have sprung up at the edges of, or between our towns and cities
Figure 6 Illustration of Placemaking Scales
- This demands that the regions and local authorities in Wales get behind these programmes and focus their energies at the infill and fine grain. So local bus services and more importantly focus more on the placemaking, local regeneration, etc. As illustrated in Figure 6 this means development in and around stations, last mile access to stations, and greater density and mixed uses in the sub-region around stations. This more enlightened approach to planning can and should be integrated with more holistic approach to transport planning and must include the gradual relocation of existing developments back to PT connected places and away from car dependant locations
- We also need to accelerate decarbonisation of our transport systems. More OLE, battery tech innovation and Hydrogen, etc; NRs decarbonisation plans needs funding and implementation. In Wales this means early measures for OLE on SWML to Swansea, VoG Line, NWML, to Bristol Temple Meads, Marches Line, etc
So quite a bit going on and quite a bit to do! And before I get comments, yes further work is required in mid Wales and on the Marches Line; and Active Travel is being explored (albeit most of this falls to LAs to develop and deliver) and work to explore innovation in rail standards and new/reopened routes is also in progress.
Ps. Oh, and I addressed post covid and flexible working in two blogs in 2020:
Also – some video narrative re Wales investment priorities.
 Deputy Minister for Climate Change Oral Statement 20/10/21 Plenary 20/10/2021 – Welsh Parliament (assembly.wales)
 Cardiff Capital Region Passenger Rail Vision, 2021,
 South East Wales Transport Commission South East Wales Transport Commission: final recommendations | GOV.WALES
 South East Wales Transport Commission, 2019 https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2020-11/south-east-wales-transport-commission-final-recommendations.pdf
 Union Connectivity Review, Final Report, November 2021, Policy paper overview: Union connectivity review: final report – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
 A Transport Investment Programme for Wales,
Levelling Up, Working Together? A Transport Enhancement Programme for Wales – Mark Barry (swalesmetroprof.blog)
 Welsh Government Statement re: town centres, transport planning and development, Sep 2021
Radical intervention needed to save Wales’ town centres | GOV.WALES