DELAYS TO the Core Valley Lines (CVL) modernisation are expected to be so extensive that some of the promised European Union funding will be lost, despite the EU offering a six-month deferral of the deadline. Capital schemes outside the CVL may be paused or cancelled to release funding.
The timescale for the £750 million modernisation, which includes electrification, was already tight before Covid-19, the transfer of CVL ownership from Network Rail having occurred six months later than the Welsh Government had expected when it awarded the Wales and Borders contract to KeolisAmey in 2018.
Covid-19 has caused further delays and the Wales European Funding Office (WEFO) has agreed that the CVL projects which are eligible for £164 million of European Regional Development (ERD) funding can be delivered by June 2023 without forfeiting the money. The previous deadline was December 2022.
Minutes of TfW’s May board meeting also note: ‘Having undertaken the high-level rescheduling of the programme, the project team has initially identified that four of the nine ERD funded projects could exceed the June 2023 milestone, which could lead to a potential loss of funding of around £50 million.
‘Discussions continue with WEFO over a further extension of the milestone. Cost increases have been discussed with the Welsh Government. Work will be carried out with the Welsh Government to identify possible inflight high-value projects outside of the CVL that pose less of an economic benefit that could be paused or terminated to release capital funding.’
Neither TfW nor the Welsh Government could tell Modern Railways whether the projects under consideration for pausing or termination were all rail projects, transport projects more generally, or any projects in the Government’s capital plans. The four projects are likely to relate to the lines where tram-train operation is planned, namely Cardiff Bay and Queen Street to Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare and Pontypridd, as well as Radyr to Cardiff Central via Fairwater. Modernisation of the Rhymney and Coryton lines was planned to be completed in 2023, after the original EU funding deadline.
TOO MANY TRAINS?
Some Welsh rail users have been sceptical of the need for service frequency to increase to four trains per hour (tph) from all four heads of the Valleys termini, particularly Rhymney, and believe other lines are more deserving of investment to increase frequencies. Maesteg and Ebbw Vale still have hourly services, for example.
Further delay to modernisation could arise if the CVL’s infrastructure manager, Amey Keolis Infrastructure Ltd (AKIL), withdraws as a result of the complications caused by Covid-19, a risk highlighted in TfW’s annual report for 2019-20. TfW already has an Operator of Last Resort and an Infrastructure Manager of Last Resort in place, but the report notes withdrawal of AKIL during CVL redevelopment could result in ‘a decline in performance, lack of available workers and disruption to infrastructure development’.
Demand for some of the previously planned CVL frequency enhancements could be affected by economic changes noted in the annual report, particularly a decline in Gross Domestic Product and an increase in unemployment. ‘Possible mitigation might involve reducing the extent of the timetable’ says the annual report, referring to Wales and Borders services as a whole.