Statement from the Wrexham-Bidston Rail Users’ Association
The WBRUA Committee met on Friday 24 March and unanimously agreed that something has to change as TfW appears incapable of delivering an acceptable service on the Wrexham-Bidston line. This Association is not alone in voicing its criticism; other Rail User Groups have the same concerns about this operator’s incompetence.
In the Autumn of 2018, shortly after TfW took over the Wrexham-Bidston line, the train service was suspended for some weeks ‘because more trains than usual needed maintenance’. It is now 2023 and once again the train service has been suspended by TfW ‘because more trains than usual needed maintenance’ – on this occasion it’s not even the trains which operate the Wrexham-Bidston service but mainline class 175s and it is not yet clear when the Wrexham-Bidston service will be reinstated. Over the period TfW have operated the line, services have also been withdrawn at short notice because of ‘staffing issues’.
Since it took over the Wrexham-Bidston service, TfW has consistently failed to provide accurate and up to date information and the ongoing unreliability of the Wrexham-Bidston service has resulted in many passengers questioning TfW’s ability to run the service. Derogatory comments on social media are not uncommon; however, what is striking in the case of TfW is the massive tide of negative opinion and complete absence of any comments in their favour. The language from correspondents makes it clear that the travelling public have all but given up on this train service. The WBRUA is aware of one person who had to recently change employment because of the ongoing unreliability of the Wrexham-Bidston service.
The rail replacement bus service for the Wrexham-Bidston line takes twice as long as the train. The ongoing lack of train service forces those who use it to find alternatives (in many cases, their cars) whilst undermining their confidence in rail it and is almost certainly impacting on the local economy as well as worsening the congestion on our roads. TfW has refused to post rail replacement bus timetables at stations notwithstanding numerous requests from the WBRUA, and recent observations indicate that the buses are running with very few passengers on board and would-be passengers are still being found waiting on station platforms due to the lack of clear information!
The primary cause of the current disruption is that Class 175s have been withdrawn from service until repairs are completed. This follows three recent fires and faults subsequently being found with this type of train. Class 175s will come off lease with TfW when sufficient Class 197s are in service and it is probable that the 175 inspection and maintenance regime was allowed to slip. The 175s were maintained by their supplier, Alstom, until recently at Chester Depot. The Depot is now operated by CAF – the supplier of the 197s. The change in maintainer may also be a factor.
The introduction into service of new rolling stock by TfW has been an unacceptably protracted affair. Had the Class 230s and more 197s been in service by now (as per TFW’s original plan), the loss of 175s would not be as critical. The Class 230s first arrived at Wrexham in the summer of 2020 and are still not in service. The trains’ manufacturers Vivarail assured the WBRUA over six months ago that all technical issues had been resolved. On the one hand, TfW appears to have neglected the maintenance of their 175 fleet and yet seems to be unduly risk-averse regarding the Class 230s.
The WBRUA suggests that this situation could have been avoided with more effective management of its rolling stock assets by TfW. Unfortunately, this is yet another item on an increasing list of failures to deliver what was promised and expected.
Significant public money has been spent without the benefits from the investment being realised in a timely manner. Ticket revenue is continuously being undermined. The impact on TfW’s bottom line must be significant. Furthermore, the shortlisting of non-electrified routes to be worked by the new battery-electric Class 777s recently introduced by Merseyrail is dependent upon, among other things, passenger demand. While bodies like the Liverpool City Region and GrowthTrack 360 (GT360) are appreciating the value of the Wrexham-Bidston line, the failures on the part of TfW are in danger of making the route appear an unattractive investment as revenue plummets.
All the foregoing points to a complete failure of Senior Management at TfW. The WBRUA believes that the Welsh Government should instigate an independent review of TfW to determine where the root cause of the problems lie and what needs to be done to rectify the situation. In the meantime as a minimum, the Welsh Government should be demanding reassurances from TfW that it is exploring all options for returning regular passenger services to the Wrexham-Bidston line as soon as humanly possible.
There is already a chorus of voices saying that the Wrexham-Bidston line should be transferred to another operator (Merseyrail?) with a better focus on the Mersey-Dee region rather than remain with TfW which is both South Wales based and focussed.