Wales becomes first UK nation to renationalise railways

Passenger numbers have collapsed to their lowest since the mid-19th century because of the coronavirus pandemic

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 22 October 2020 13:43 BST
National service: a Transport for Wales train
National service: a Transport for Wales train

Wales is to be the first UK nation to effectively renationalise train operations.

Ministers in Cardiff have confirmed that the Wales and Borders rail franchise currently operated by KeolisAmey will end in February 2021, with the Welsh government taking control.

The franchise is branded Transport for Wales (TfW). 

From the handover date, TfW trains will be run by a publicly-owned company – “which includes a new partnership between Transport for Wales, Keolis and Amey,” according to the Welsh government.

The franchise holders GWR and Avanti West Coast will continue to operate in South and North Wales respectively.

Passenger numbers have collapsed to their lowest since the mid-19th century because of the coronavirus pandemic. Travellers were urged to avoid TfW unless essential until late August.

As with other UK rail franchises, the “revenue risk” for the franchise was shifted to taxpayers in May under the terms of an Emergency Measures Agreement (EMA). 

Ken Skates, minister for economy, transport and North Wales, said: “The last few months have been extremely challenging for public transport in Wales and across the UK.

“Covid has significantly impacted passenger revenues and the Welsh government has had to step in with significant support to stabilise the network and keep it running.

“We have decided to transfer of day to day rail services to a new publicly owned subsidiary of Transport for Wales.

“The decision follows the collapse of rail franchises across England as the privatised model comes under strain from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.”

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His deputy, Lee Waters, said: “We are bringing the Wales and Borders service into public hands because it is a vital asset, critical to the future of our economy and our communities.”

The move will also affect a number of Transport for Wales services that run in England, serving stations such as Chester, Crewe, Manchester Piccadilly and Shrewsbury.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers are less concerned about what goes on behind the scenes provided it doesn’t result in disruption for them.

“A stable, reliable railway will be a key part in getting Wales moving again and helping rebuild the economy.” 

The rail writer Philip Haigh tweeted: "Sounds like the minister is warning of cuts but he talks of continuing ambition. 

“Talk of new partnership with Keolis Amey sounds like minister wants the headline of nationalisation while keeping private expertise behind the scenes.”

The tracks remain the responsibility of Network Rail, part of the UK Department for Transport.

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