Metro Hopes for 2023…

I’m normally pretty positive and optimistic…and have talked and written about Metros in Wales in such a manner, even with some small measure of critique. For example, in these blogs from 2022:

Wales’ Metros – Update Feb 2022

Do you believe in Metro?

and these earlier papers from 2018 (Which events have overtaken somewhat):

My evidence to Senedd committee re Metro procurement in 2018

Making the Metro work for the Valleys and for Cardiff…

I have also addressed the challenges of making choices through the Transport Planning process:

Wales, Transport Planning & Choices…

So, to start 2023, I have set out some Metro Moans in a complementary blog…..but to provide balance I have also set out below, some Metro Hopes for 2023.   They should be read  together!

The hopes cover:

  • #1 Next phase of Metro in Cardiff and of a “Cardiff Crossrail”
  • #2 First phase of a Swansea Metro
  • #3 Upgrade of The Borderlands line between Wrexham and Liverpool
  • #4 Need for UK Gov commitment to SWML upgrade and new stations
  • #5 Devolution of rail powers/funding and Barnettisation of HS2, etc

All the proposals and hopes below have to be viewed cognisant of our collective obligations to deliver Net Zero Wales – which has challenging mode shift targets that are dependant on a major uplift in public transport capacity. I set out some of the broader issues and challenges in my evidence to the Senedd Climate Change Committee in 2022.

Hopes for 2023…

Hope #1 – Pragmatic first phases of a “Cardiff Crossrail”

In my Metro Moans 2023 blog I set out the primacy of fixing the City and Coryton Lines so that they offer at least 4tph (Very few people are going to wait 30 mins for a trip of 20 minutes or less!) . Following this essential measure, I suggest, as implied by our Net Zero Wales mode shift targets, we will need to continue to expand our Core Valley Line (CVL) Metro network and services well into the 2030s.

My hope for Cardiff is a pragmatic new phase of Metro Figure 1 that builds toward the long term vision Figure 2 Figure Y of a fully integrated multi-modal transport system for the region to better connect the 360k people who live in the local authority and estimated 450k in the wider built up urban area (BUA).

This summary augments and provides some detail and more focus to the proposals I set out a few years ago in Cardiff Crossrail and my hopes for Lloyd George Avenue (As embodied in Cardiff Council’s Transport White Paper and also included the CCR Passenger Rail Vision)

Figure 1 – Pragmatic next phase of CVL Metro in Cardiff once core transformation complete in 2024

Figure 2 Illustration of Cardiff Metro Vision – post CVL Transformation…

This is more than just Cardiff Crossrail, Cardiff Circle, NW Corridor, more stations, etc.  It’s about making much better use of the existing rail infrastructure and much more overt rail/bus/active travel integration at every station, to enable a high quality integrated multi-modal public transport grid across the city Figure 3 Figure Y .  See my Transport Planning Blog for more details of the grid concept.

Figure 3 Multi-modal integrated transport grid concept…

Figure Y – A Possible future strategic Metro network grid in/around Cardiff, VoG, RCT…

To be clear, this is not just about trips to/from Cardiff City Centre or Bay either – this is to connect many more Origin/Destination (O/D) points across the city and so make public transport a viable alternative to car use for more of them (See moan #2 re: bus lanes in my complementary blog!).  This could be done at the fraction of the costs of an equivalent new build given how much poorly utilised rail kit there is in the city, of the order of 15Km!

The grid approach, especially with good interchanges (including with local bus services), also helps distribute demand more evenly across the network (vs hub and spoke which “forces” more demand through a central point) and so away from the current platforms Cardiff Central and Queen St.

The key features of a pragmatic next phase for Cardiff (so trying to maximise benefits and minimise capex requirements), could include (and note/acknowledge more detailed development and operational assessment will influence these suggestions and/or timing thereof):

  • Getting 4tph on the City and Coryton Lines ASAP…really ASAP! (to make much better use of currently very poorly utilised segregated rail infrastructure) – See “Metro Moans Blog for details/rationale for this measure
  • Review and simplify services patterns proposed for CVL services – I don’t think we need direct services from all of Merthyr, Treherbert and Aberdare to both Cardiff Central and Cardiff Bay. This constrains network operations and reliability – any new interchange required as a result of service simplification will be mitigated by reduced wait times resulting from higher frequency services
  • Initial “Cardiff Crossrail” link from Cardiff Central to Cardiff Bay via the bay line and onto Pierhead Street
  • Closure and green landscaping of Lloyd George Avenue parallel to and integrated with upgraded bay line “tramway” – an intervention I proposed in some form in both my 2011 Metro report and 2013 Metro Impact Study
  • OLE (electrification) on Penarth branch and connection from Cardiff West junction to Crossrail at Central
  • Operation of MV tram-trains to enable direct services from Penarth to Cardiff Bay via the proposed new Crossrail platforms at Cardiff Central (in advance of longer term NW corridor services that requires major grade separation at Cardiff West)
  • Expand Cogan station as interchange with new platform on Penarth branch
  • Further new CVL stations (Ely Mill, Gabalfa, Roath Park, Nantgarw, Pontypridd North, etc) to add to those committed in the current programme at Crwys Rd and Butetown North
  • Cardiff Parkway
  • More bus lanes and bus prioritisation…and yes, more bus lanes!
  • Bus network and services redesigned to integrate with rail services, based on the availability of the capped multi-modal PAYG fares and ticketing in development
  • Cardiff-Newport BRT along A48 and BRT to NE Cardiff
  • More Active Travel – esp last mile access to stations
  • Key rail/rail/bus (and Active Travel) interchanges will then exist across the city: Central, Queen St, Radyr, Cogan, Waungron Rd, Birchgrove, Heath, Cardiff Bay, Gabalfa, Ely Mill, etc

To exemplify, the long-term function of a SWML station at Newport Rd/Rover Way supports the grid concept as it provides not just a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) opportunity, but an interchange between: new SWML services (inc. to Bristol), Crossrail services to the bay,  a Cardiff-Newport BRT service, local bus services and Active Travel.  In my view this should/could be where a future Cardiff coach station is located; just 5/10 mins from the Bay and City Centre and located to the east of the City Centre which is more optimal for coach operations.

Re: Cardiff Crossrail This is not a great deal different from the proposals first set out in the 2013 Metro Impact Study Fig x

Figure x – Illustration (now superseded!) of “Cardiff Crossrail” concept from 2013 Metro Impact Study

The current Cardiff Crossrail Consultation should perhaps be viewed in the context of this wider vision, as partly manifest in this broader work from TfW for the wider Cardiff Capital Region:  Future developments | Transport for Wales (tfw.wales)

Hope #2  – Can we get on with a first phase of the Swansea Metro

Plenty of work has been completed since I first aired ideas for a “Swansea Metro” back in 2017! Swansea to Cardiff in 30 minutes and a Swansea Bay Metro. Some of those early ideas  were formally captured and initially developed in the Welsh Government’s Case for Investment[i] in Wales Rail Network which I led in 2018.

The concept has clearly moved on since then and morphed into something more focussed and deliverable.  Further and more current details are now available following formal development work (funded by WG and the region) undertaken  by TfW’s Swansea Bay and West Wales Metro Programme.

Whilst journey times and service enhancements on the South Wales Mainline (including a West Wales Parkway – probably at Carmarthen) are being developed via TfW’s SWML Programme; the complementary  programme  for Swansea  Bay and West Wales has now identified  a good case for  an initial phase of a local Metro. This was covered and presented in detailed WelTAG studies[ii] published in 2022.

To note: these initial phases of a Swansea Metro have a strong business case and almost certainly a better Value for Money case than HS2!

Figure 4 From TfW – Summary of Swansea Bay Metro Proposals (from WelTAG study)

The first and most obvious intervention to deliver is a new Pontarddulais-Neath-Swansea local commuter Metro service  Figure 4 .  This will see 6 or 7 new stations and the use of the Swansea District Line  for 2, 3 or even 4tph local commuter services between Pontarddulais and Swansea High Street. This programme is enabled by a new curve proposed between the Swansea District Line (SDL) and SWML just north of Briton Ferry.  There are also variants re: frequency and an option to extend some of these services to Ammanford.  Furthermore, electrification of the SWML to Swansea could be extended to enable a more cost-effective implementation on the SDL. This could enable full electric operation of this first phase Metro which has a total price tag of  approx. £250-300M.  To not be making better use of the SDL (like the City and Coryton Lines in Cardiff) is a wasted opportunity.

Also worth restating that this rail backbone is essential to support the fully integrated rail/bus network for the region as illustrated below, as well as connecting some of the major new development sites in the region.

Figure Z – From TfW -Illustration of possible strategic rail/bus Metro in Swansea Bay

Further progress really needs focussed local political support (it really should have been part of the regions “City Deal”) and UK Government engagement and commitment.  Delivery of local commuter rail services to Swansea Bay is an essential component and backbone of the wider metro and bus integration plans in the region.

Hope #3  – Get those Stadler Battery 777s on the Borderlands Line ASAP

Figure 5 From Stadler “Metro Class 777”

I specifically addressed the “Metro opportunities” in northern Wales in a blog a couple of years ago.  Recent development via Merseyrail who operate the commuter rail network around Merseyside and to Chester presents an opportunity to accelerate some of the proposed Metro developments on the Borderlands line between Wrexham and Liverpool via Bidston.

We have now seen early data from the new Merseyrail battery Stadler 777s[iii], and it is positive in terms of their operating range and reliability.  This presents an opportunity for north eastern Wales that would potentially see these vehicles replace the Vivarail D230s planned for Borderlands service between Wrexham and Bidston. So, we should accelerate work to introduce 4tph electrified operations of the 777s from Wrexham via Shotton direct to Liverpool; the extended battery range negates the need for expensive electrification of that line and so brings forward the prospect of full integration of Borderlands “north Wales Metro” with Merseyrail services. 

The role of Shotton as an interchange between Borderlands and the  NWML (express and commuter services)  then  becomes even more important and so its enhancement accelerated.  If we can align this work with the additional all stopper NWML commuter services and improvements at Chester station we also need, we then have a public transport (PT) offer that begins to provide an attractive alternative to car use, especially when we fully integrate bus networks with this rail backbone.

Figure 6 – From TfW Borderlands Line

PS – Despite my evidenced statements  that in aggregate HS2 does not benefit  Wales (it does not and yes it should be Barnettised, as should all English rail enhancement spend!), I do want to see it succeed. So, in that vein, where it can, it needs to be implemented in a way that can support and/or enhance Welsh rail services and connectivity. Its treatment at Crewe is fundamental. Firstly, by not compromising the current Cardiff  – Manchester services, secondly by allowing interchange between services from the Chester/NWML and fast HS2 services to Manchester (inc. airport) and thirdly by future proofing the option to run classic compatible  HS2 services onto Chester and the NWML.

Hope #4 – Major UK Government commitment to SWML Upgrade and Burns Stations

This is the big UK Government Challenge for 2023– will they step and find the £700M needed to electrify the SWML to Swansea (I would add the VoG Line and ensure DfT find ££ to get OLE Bristol Temple Meads), enhance lines speeds and capacity and in south eastern Wales, construct the five new Burns stations and Cardiff Parkway; all of which will be served by new all stopper local services between Bristol Temple Meads/Severn Tunnel Junction and Cardiff (and beyond).  This  is essential to provide an alternative to car use on the M4.

Figure 7 Emerging Priorities from TfW’s SWML Programme

Figure 8 TfW Burns Station concept[iv] in SE Wales

Development work (which is now moving into a more detailed scheme and business case phase) being led and undertaken by TfW’s SWML Programme (with DfT and NR support and involvement), is well advanced (and has received some funding via TfW from UK Government Union Connectivity Review[v] which was chaired by Sir Peter Hendy as well as Welsh Government) but now needs to progress to capital funding commitments from UK Government.

This scheme is essential  to help both economic development and to provide a viable alternative to the M4 to help deliver our mode shift targets.  The Western Gateway advocacy group has also endorsed these proposals and I helped include them in its 2050 Rail Vision which covers the full extent from West Wales through Cardiff to Bristol Temple Meads and beyond.   This is an essential piece of UK economic infrastructure and UK Gov should treat it in the same way as the £10Bn Trans Pennine Route Upgrade[vi] currently in progress as part of its broad £100Bn+ Integrated Rail Plan[vii] for the midlands and north of England. 

South Wales and south west England deserve no less.

Hope #5 – Full devolution of rail powers and funding

We know in Wales we are not getting a fair or defendable proportion of UK rail enhancement  capital investment  – and have not done for 30 years!  Maybe this year the penny will drop at Westminster and the clearly erroneous and patronising “but Wales benefits from HS2” briefings will stop – especially from misinformed and/or selectively briefed politicians.

Just to note: if your briefing re Wales,  HS2 and benefits thereof, comes from the DfT…you have to recognise the organisation whose budget will be most reduced if projects like HS2 are defined by HM Treasury as “England only” is, yes you guessed it, the DfT! 

So, in 2023, I hope, naïvely,  for full devolution of rail powers and funding to Welsh Government and the definition by HM Treasury of all rail enhancement investment in England (so HS2, IRP, TRU, etc) as “England only” and not “England and Wales”.

FYI I prepared a little video explainer re Barnett and HS2 last year, as well one looking at  Wales’s rail investment priorities; my submission to the GB Railways WISP Consultation in 2022 addressed the failures of the current UK rail ecosystem with regard to Wales.

In the absence of movement from the current UK Government, at the very least I hope the UK Labour Party will commit to addressing this constitutional anomaly in their manifesto for the next Westminster General Election! To note we will also need Road Pricing (or the reduction in the road/car use discount as I prefer to call it)

Without this – I suspect that much of the above will remain just good ideas and instead, Wales will watch on as the £100Bn+ Integrated Rail Plan is implemented in England as we get to repaint some of our Victorian  signal boxes. In that event, my moaning will continue, and my hopes remain unfulfilled!

Blwyddyn newydd dda


[i]          Mark Barry, Welsh Government, 2018, The Rail Network in Wales (gov.wales)

[ii]          Swansea Bay and West Wales Metro WelTAG stage 2: final report (gov.wales)

[iii]         MMER_IPEMU0922e.indd (stadlerrail.com)

[iv]         SE Wales Transport Commission, Final Recommendations (gov.wales) WG, Nov 2020

[v]          Union connectivity review: final report – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

[vi]         Transport update: Transpennine route upgrade – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

[vii]         Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

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