THE PROPOSED conversion of the ‘Core Valley Lines’ in South Wales for light rail operation must not preclude future use of the railways for freight, the Welsh Government has told companies bidding for the next Wales and Borders franchise.

Coal trains currently operate from Hirwaun, near Aberdare, and from Cwmbargoed on a freight-only branch that joins the Rhymney line at Ystrad Mynach. The reduction in coal burning for electricity generation is likely to reduce or eliminate these workings. However, stone has been loaded at Hirwaun in the past, and large volumes of stone from local quarries may be required for the proposed tidal barrage at Swansea.

The four bidders for the next franchise, due to commence in October 2018, have been asked to develop ideas for electrifying the Core Valley Lines, north of Cardiff Central. Operation with light rail vehicles is under consideration. Bidders have been told: ‘The future Core Valley Lines system is expected to retain or modify freight operations, including co-existing with other potential modes.’

A Welsh Government officer told an Assembly inquiry into the franchise that discussions with the Office of Rail and Road had indicated light rail would not preclude freight.

Across the franchise area as a whole, bids should ensure that ‘capacity for freight traffic is protected’.