Welsh Government Takes Wales and Borders Rail Franchise into Public Ownership

The Welsh government has taken the Wales and Borders rail franchise into public ownership as a response to continuing challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Transport for Wales began operating the Wales and Borders services on 7 February 2021 under a subsidiary, Transport for Wales Rail Ltd. The decision, which was first announced in October 2020, follows a huge reduction in passenger numbers. The Welsh government hopes this move will deliver longer-term financial stability.

Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, said:

“Our rail service is a critical asset and one we must protect. Since the pandemic began we’ve provided significant financial support to keep trains running. The need for greater public control is a reflection of the ongoing pressures of coronavirus and the challenges being faced across the rail industry as passenger demand remains low.

“We remain determined to deliver key commitments made at the start of the journey with Transport for Wales, including the creation of Metro systems and the delivery of brand new rolling stock. Bringing the rail franchise into public control will help secure this better future for passengers. It is a public transport asset, in public ownership, for the public good.”

The Wales and Borders franchise had been operated by KeolisAmey Wales since October 2018. In March 2020 a short-term agreement worth 40 million GBP was agreed to help the franchise during the initial coronavirus lockdown. On 31 May an Emergency Measures Agreement was agreed in which the Welsh government said it would spend up to 65 million GBP over six months to keep trains running on the franchise network.

The nationalised operator has taken over all staff, rolling stock and services operated by KeolisAmey.

Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, said:

“The railway is an integral part of Wales’ transport network and we want it to be of even more importance in the future.

“Tackling the climate emergency means we need to make it easier for people to step out of their cars and walk, cycle and use public transport instead. Transport for Wales will be working across all of these areas as part of our efforts to create an integrated, more convenient transport system.

“The action we have taken to bring the franchise into public ownership will help make this ambition a reality for passengers.”

Rail passenger journeys in Great Britain in 2020–21 Q1 fell to 35 million, which is 8.1 percent of the 439 million passenger journeys in the same quarter the previous year (2019–20). According to the ORR this is the lowest level of passenger usage since the mid-nineteenth century. TfW (the Wales & Borders franchise) saw 0.37 million passenger journeys in 2020–21 Q1, a mere 4.5 percent of its 2019–20 Q1 total.

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