Committee launches report on the future of the Wales and borders rail franchise

11 December 2013

Article by Andrew Minnis, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Image from Flickr by Ed Webster. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

The Enterprise and Business Committee is travelling by train to Hereford today to launch its report on the future of the Wales and borders rail franchise.

The choice of launch venue reflects evidence which highlighted the vital importance of cross-border routes and services, not only for passengers, but also for the franchise itself since these routes are the most financially viable in the current franchise.

The inquiry began at the start of October with Committee members hosting a stakeholder event in the Pierhead in Cardiff Bay where they talked directly to rail user groups about the issues which concern them. The remainder of the inquiry consisted of oral evidence sessions with a range of witnesses, including the Minister for Economy, Science and Transport, the UK Department for Transport and the Scottish Government.

The report includes the Committee’s charter for the franchise which sets out the actions it believes the Welsh Government should take to deliver improved services for passengers and better value for money for taxpayers.   The charter addresses five key issues:

  • Although the next franchise will not begin until 2018, the Committee believes preparations need to begin now.  The charter recommends that powers and funding for the specification and procurement of the franchise should be devolved, and that the roles of the Welsh Government and Department for Transport must be clarified soon to allow work to get underway in earnest.
  • A wide ranging and early consultation with passengers and other stakeholders on both sides of the border is required to identify priorities for the franchise specification and performance management of the operator.
  • Due to the procurement lead time and the need to address legal requirements on accessibility of rolling stock by 2020, prompt action is required to ensure the right rolling stock is available in the right quantity.  The Committee also believes the Government needs to act to ensure it has sufficient staff with the expertise to procure the franchise, including the rolling stock.
  • While the Welsh Government is considering options for a not-for-dividend franchise, the Committee has no fixed view on the management model.  Whichever approach is adopted, however, the Committee believes it should allow a closer relationship between the operator and Network Rail, and the Government must show how it will deliver the best outcome for passengers and taxpayers.  A decision on the management model is needed soon.
  • Finally, the next franchise has to be framed within policies for better integration of the public transport network.  In this respect the report and charter therefore build on the Committee’s previous report on
  • Integrated Public Transport in Wales.

The Committee’s report and charter and recommendations have been passed to the Welsh Government and a response will be provided in the coming months.