Do you believe in Metro?

In January 2021 a headline appeared in the Western Mail[i], attributed to me,  “South Wales Metro hampered by public disbelief as expert claims ‘even my mother doesn’t believe it”.  As a part time advisor to Transport for Wales, I am sure the headline caused some consternation in TfW as well as Welsh Government.

The very relevant story was drawn from my comment to Cardiff Council’s Environmental Scrutiny Committee in January 2021, which was, “People don’t believe the metro is coming. My mother doesn’t believe it!.”

The point I was making, is that many people not close to the project are, by default, cynical, especially as regards major rail infrastructure investment in Wales.  The stark fact is, that  Wales has been starved of major rail investment Vs the rest of the UK over the last 30 years[ii].  So, it’s not really a surprise that the public are perhaps still cynical, and yes, many don’t believe the current South Wales Metro programme will happen.

So, we do have a challenge  – and yes my mother has often voiced her doubts!

Yes, we have seen the Great Western Mainline (GWML) and South Wales Mainline (SWML) to Cardiff electrified  in 2017  – but not to Swansea!  However, it is the South Wales Metro that begins to turn the dial – thanks to a pragmatic deal between WG and UK Gov in 2014/5 to agree to fund the project.

So, yes, today  the South Wales Metro is a reality, it is “occurring”. Just look at the depot going up at Taffs Well and the electrification work in progress.  In fact, work will accelerate over the next 12-18 months with more visible signs of work everywhere; new stations on the bay line and Crwys Road, overhead wiring, stations upgrades, new rolling stock arriving to be commissioned, etc.   

Having some relationship with TfW, I cannot understate the  scale and complexity of the challenge.  TfW are undertaking a major upgrade and enhancement of what is an operational railway, a Victorian railway that, let’s be honest, has had very little investment since it was opened to move coal down to Cardiff from the valleys in the 19th Century.  The number of previously unsighted issues and liabilities should not be underestimated! 

So, the integrated work of teams working on design, trackwork, permanent way and civil engineering, electrification, signalling, rolling stock, stations, timetables, operations, rolling stock, branding, marketing, stakeholder engagement, project management, asset management, etc!!  is frankly staggering and to most people,  completely invisible.  I see some of their work, and the pressure they all face given the expectation (including James Price and the Leadership team); but they are an energised committed collective of multi-disciplinary professionals all focussed on delivery.

The reality though, for most people, is “seeing is believing”, so actually getting on a new tram-train sometime in the next couple of years is what will make the difference.  In fact,  I sense that when people actually  see it operating there will be a palpable sense of disbelief.  Perhaps not at the same scale,  but I hope they will also be as impressed as people were (including me) in London when the Elizabeth Line opened in May this year. 

As regards the Elizabeth Line,  I want to pay credit to the original Chair of Crossrail, Terry Morgan, who was the keynote speaker at my first major Metro Conference back in 2011 at Cardiff City Hall.  That’s where we launched my first report on the South Wales Metro[iii] ( and followed up with my Welsh Government commissioned Metro Impact Study[iv] in 2013). These were a major part of the foundation for all that has followed.

So, from heresy to reality in just over 10 years. That is actually pretty impressive given how long most UK transport projects take to gestate and deliver. For example, London’s Crossrail was actually first announced when I was living in London in 1987; the current incarnation initiated in 2009, opened in May 2022, four years later than originally planned and its costs have gone from £14Bn to about £20Bn; there were also major cost and time overruns on the Great Western Electrification Programme. In Wales we have also seen delays and costs balloon to over £1Bn for the improvements to the Heads of the Valleys Road between Hirwaun to Abergavenny. 

Worth also reflecting that since London’s Crossrail opening, no one is talking about the cost overruns and delays…it’s all about how amazing it is!

So, in the next couple of years the Core Valley Lines (CVL) – which has been transferred from NR to WG,  will see electrification, new tram-trains and tri-modes, offering more capacity and faster and higher frequency services. I have published blogs on the South Wales Metro[v] and the  other Metros in Wales[vi].

There is also a vitally important complementary programme in progress to integrate bus networks, services and fares/ticketing right across Wales, so the passenger is presented with a single integrated public transport network, instead of the fragmented and inefficient system we have today (a legacy of the deregulation of bus services in the 1980s!). Welsh Government’s  bus reform proposals and legislation will I suspect necessary to really make this work comprehensively. This is perhaps a bigger challenge than building the Metro!

So back to my mother.  I know the Metro  will be operating in the next couple of years, but I didn’t want her or my father to wait to, “set the record” straight” around the family dinner table.  So, as part of Philip and Frances 60th wedding anniversary celebrations,   TfW and I arranged a trip for them and my daughter, Marianne, to visit  the new depot being built at Taffs Well and to take a look and sit, on a mock-up of the new Trams-trains that will eventually be stored and maintained at that depot.  We took some photos to prove it as well! 

Thanks to James Williams Team shot!

Marianne Barry about to leave the depot!

My parents at the controls….!

Frances and Philip Barry….and Marianne Barry

Lewis, “and this is my house”!

In front of the impressive depot…

So, a big thanks to Lewis Brencher, James Williams and Jamie Warner who were excellent hosts and guides.  My mother and father both commented on how professional, knowledgeable and especially how enthusiastic they were – especially Jamie.  So thanks again! It is so much easier to take on a big project if you are committed and enthused. I know this is how most of TfW functions!

Seeing is believing as they say.  And yes my mother does believe.    When you add in the huge amount of technical work now being deployed one does not need faith, one can see what an enormous project is in progress.

There is a lot more work to do and not doubt some challenges, and I still expect some bumps on the road,  and probably it will cost more than we originally expected,  but Metro is coming. Remember the day after Crossrail opened everyone was talking about how amazing it is ….no one is talking about a 5-year delay and a £5Bn overspend!

In short order, I also expect a Phase 2 of Metro CVL from 2024-29ish to address some of the limitations of the core phase and to deliver further connectivity across the Cardiff Capital Region – especially important re: Net Zero Wales[vii] and its implicit mode shift targets.  This will I expect include immediate frequency enhancements on the City and Coryton Lines (to get to 4tph) and the phased delivery of further stations.  It will also include, the start of the “Cardiff Crossrail”, which will see the expansion of the current bay line to include a direct link to Cardiff Central and a route east across the Cardiff Docks through Splott and Tremorfa to a new interchange on the SWML (as recommend by Burns) at Newport Rd/Rover Way. This could support a major brown field regeneration and development programme along the route.

I also hope DfT/NR can progress electrification of the Vale of Glamorgan line so that we can operate tram-trains to Penarth and link them to the “Cardiff Crossrail” plans through Cardiff Central.

The proposed “Cardiff Crossrail” also includes the full circle connection from Radyr to Coryton and the longer-term NW Corridor project and the development of a new tram-train route from the bay line at Cardiff Central via the City Line to J33, Creigiau, Llantrisant and Pontyclun.

The CVL can also be expanded north from Aberdare to Hirwaun to provide a “gateway to the Brecon Beacons” as well as a P&R station and bus interchange on the A465.

So, like London’s Crossrail  the current CVL transformation,  may cost a little more than we expected and take a little longer to actually  complete….but it will be finished, we will use it, we will talk about it, and yes  we will be proud of it.

Mother, tickets please!

Mark Barry, July 2022.

[i]        South Wales Metro hampered by public disbelief as expert claims ‘even my mother doesn’t believe it’ – Wales Online

[ii]       Historical investment in rail infrastructure enhancements [HTML] | GOV.WALES

[iii]      Barry M, 2011, “A Metro for Wales Capital Region – Connecting Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys”, Cardiff Business Partnership and Institute of Welsh Affairs iwa-metroreport.pdf

[iv]      Barry M and Metro Consortium, 2013, “Metro Impact Study”, South Wales Metro: impact study | GOV.WALES

[v]       South Wales Metro & Devolution – Mark Barry (

[vi]      Wales’ Metros – Update Feb 2022 – Mark Barry (

[vii]     Net Zero Wales | GOV.WALES  PT increase  from 5% to 7% by 2030 and to 13% by 2040; AT to 33% by 2030 and 35% by 2040; with car use falling to 60% by 2030 and ~50% by 2040.

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