A fifteen year era has ended. KeolisAmey, a joint-venture, have this morning (Sunday 14th October 2018) taken over the running of the Wales & Borders rail franchise from Arriva Trains Wales. Arriva’s 15-year reign, thanks to the government of the time specifying a ‘no-growth’ franchise, has brought little in the way of improvement. That is supposed to be changing, with Passengers of Reduced Mobility legislation due to come into force in a little over a year.
KeolisAmey therefore have a huge challenge ahead of them; 30 Pacers have to be removed from service by the end of 2019 in order to comply with the new accessibility regulations. Arriva Trains Wales has also left behind 36 class 150s, 8 class 153s, 24 class 158s and 12 mark 3 coaches; none of which were fully accessible to disabled persons this time last year. KeolisAmey have plans to deal with most of this, but are hostage to fortune as they depend on various changes happening on-schedule elsewhere on the railway.
A good example is the plan for the class 158s and class 150s. Belatedly, funding was found from somewhere (not Arriva I suspect) to put these units through a modification programme, making them compliant with the accessibility requirements. The first few compliant class 158s emerged before the end of Arriva’s franchise, with several services reduced in length by two coaches to release a unit to send to the works. Class 150s on the other hand were supposed to be released over the summer by the addition of 5 class 769 units (class 319s with diesel engines added). However Northern, who are ahead of Wales in the ‘queue’, have yet to see a class 769 enter service several months after Arriva were supposed to have introduced them. A further casualty of this delay was the new hourly Chester-Liverpool service that KeolisAmey were due to introduce in December 2018. Due to the shortage of trains the introduction of that service has now, sensibly, been postponed (presumably until the class 769s, or possibly other cascaded stock, arrive).
If the franchise survives this baptism of fire, improvements might start to be seen, with electrification coming to part of the ValleyLines network along with a new fleet of trains and tram-trains (the latter sadly intended for rather wide deployment) for the Cardiff Metro.