Transport for Wales Chief Executive JAMES PRICE talks to RHODRI CLARK about the future of the Wales and Borders franchise following the takeover by the Operator of Last Resort
Wales and Borders rail services are once again breaking new ground, less than three years after an innovative procurement where bidders came forward with their own technical solutions rather than responding to a detailed franchise specification.
The KeolisAmey joint venture began to operate the 15-year Wales and Borders franchise in October 2018. In May 2020 an Emergency Measures Agreement (EMA) was instituted, in recognition of the Covid-19 pandemic’s revenue impacts. It soon became clear that the 2018 franchise agreement could not be reinstated when the pandemic ended. The Welsh Government and its Transport for Wales company decided that transferring operations to the Welsh Operator of Last Resort (OLR) – known as TfW Rail Ltd – would provide the most agile structure for Wales and Borders to respond to the ups and downs of the pandemic and to the challenges of recovery afterwards.
The Department for Transport had previously transferred franchises to its OLR, but not in the midst of a pandemic. Wales and Borders was also different in being in the early stages of a multi-faceted modernisation which includes replacement of the entire legacy train fleet (p62) and electrifying and enhancing the Core Valley Lines (CVL) for operation with tram-trains and tri-mode units (p66).