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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Wales Breaks Away

Whilst England's railway system ties itself up into torturous knots supposedly as a result of timetable revamps, disconnects between rail operators, Network Rail and goodness knows who else, with consequent national malaise and Statements to Parliament; the Welsh Government has got on with the job of a top down bottom up overhaul of need for upgrade to the Principality's railway setup.

Famous of course for its narrow gauge steam railways which once served vital slate mining companies and a whole industry sector in north west Wales, a complete makeover of the rail network has been funded and approved this week in Cardiff. The outcome will mean the introduction of fleets of new trains (and trams) to operate integrated services in and around South Wales, the Welsh Valleys and beyond.

The private sector partnership with the Government in Wales (Labour controlled) will see a new rail equipment assembly plant established to provide employment and bring new skills to the economy. Smart technologically advanced trains and light rail vehicles capable of on-street running in Cardiff will takeover from the present equipment, whilst new stations and upgrading of existing railway infrastructure forms part of a £5 Billion contract package. Control of Network Rail and its London desk warriors will be lifted to

give Wales responsibility for its rail operations - excepting of course intercity and long distance services connecting with English destinations (and Scottish).

This remarkable development parallels the equally reassuring Borders Railway story just a few years ago which saw a new railway and passenger service extending down to the Borders from Edinburgh - with plans for further extension which might eventually bring trains back to Carlisle from Galashiels, Hawick and other communities arbitrarily cut off by the machinations of a Home Counties accountant (Beeching) and pro-road building Transport Minister in London during the 1960s.

Lessons will be learned from the current debacle on many (not all) of England's railways - not least of which is that the present set up is not fit for purpose, and that taking control at regional (or national level as in Scotland and Wales) leads to visionary developments being actually delivered as opposed to yet more consultancy studies.

KeolisAmey are the private sector partnership contracted to deliver this comprehensive transport upgrade and operation : Transport for Wales with a new tram and train rolling stock assembly plant to be created in Newport. Keolis already are operator of the Manchester Metrolink and Nottingham's light rail system (due also for expansion). No locally built (ie UK) rolling stock on those two systems, but hopefully things will change after Brexit takes hold. What Wales decides today - England has to surely follow. The last trams in Wales ran on the famous Swansea Bay Mumbles line with double deck electric cars built by the Brush Company. The front end of one of these large trams is on display at the Swansea museum. Blackpool had a small taste of a Welsh tram when Cardiff Water Car 131 was contracted to carrying out track cleaning work on the light rail infrastructure before services began. And of course the Trampower prototype tested in Blackpool (the all white version) was built by a Welsh company for Trampower Ltd. From small acorns etc etc.

From Wales to Blackpool. Trampower testbed car being assembled at Rigby Road for testing on Blackpool's tramway.

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