Transport watchdog calls for urgent action from TfW to improve services
The independent watchdog for transport users has called on Transport for Wales (TfW) to take urgent action to deliver a more reliable rail service to passengers.
Transport Focus has written to the companies chief executive Jan Chaudhry-van der Velde urging him to ensure services are improved and has requested the production of an action plan with timescales for restoring service performance and reliability.
The watchdog’s intervention comes after rail users put TfW in joint bottom place for overall satisfaction, alongside TransPennine Express in a recent Transport Focus survey.
It also finished near the bottom for punctuality, reliability, crowding and information during the journey for passengers.
According to the Office of Rail and Road, Transport for Wales was also recorded as having significantly more cancellations than other major operators, with 12 per cent of services in March cancelled.
In his letter, Transport Focus Director David Sidebottom says the organisation recognises the challenges facing TfW but expresses frustration that promises made by the rail operator last November and in March have still failed to produce improvements.
He notes passengers are “unable to rely on timetabled services or making journeys in comfort,” adding: “Most recently, crowding resulted in the decision to terminate Marches line services short, causing broken journeys that is taking a real toll on passenger confidence.
“It is also concerning to see the growing negative comments on Twitter referencing unclear information in planners, poor experience of replacement services and frustration with complaint handling”.
Rail passengers in Wales have faced significant disruption dating back to last year, including services being cancelled at short notice, services stopping short of their destinations, and in some cases trains being replaced by rail-replacement bus services.
In March most of the fleet of Class 175 trains was taken out of service after a series of underbody fires, one of which on a Holyhead to Cardiff service in February saw passengers evacuated and a road closed.
There are 27 Class 175 trains in the Transport for Wales fleet.
Testing across the fleet revealed a significant number of leaks coupled with pressure test failures in the trains’ air coolers, leading to an increased risk of what TfW described as ‘thermal events’.
The engine bays of all TfW’s Class 175s require a thorough clean before they can return to service and a shortage of air coolers and parts has delayed the replacement of all of the failed units.
The Office of Rail & Road also issued an improvement notice to TfW and CAF which is responsible for maintaining the fleet.
In response to the criticism, Mr Chaudhry-van der Velde, said: “Our Class 175 trains need significant engine repairs as a result of the safety checks we put in place.
“Engineers at Chester Depot are working as quickly as possible to make those repairs and return trains to passenger service – it will take several more weeks to complete the programme, but the situation is improving each week.
“As more trains are returned to service, our timetable is gradually building up so that we can restore capacity on routes, particularly those routes where we had to spread our available trains more thinly.
“We appreciate the inconvenience the resulting disruption has caused for our customers, but safety considerations have to come first.
He added: “We recognise we need to be better at ensuring our channels give our customers better quality information in a timely manner. We recently increased the size of our Customer Relations team, and we’re in the process of upskilling members of other customer-facing departments to help support with complaint handling during busy periods.
“We monitor our customers’ experience continually and discuss it at senior level to make interventions and improvements. We have several customer panels looking at various aspects of our service, and undertake extensive research amongst our customer base.
“The coming months will see extensive work across the Valleys network as we finish building the infrastructure that will provide a faster, more frequent service as part of the South Wales Metro, and we’ll ensure that customers are kept up to date with all the planned closure periods.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.