30 members listened to a zoom presentation by Professor Stuart Cole CBE entitled “Rail Policy in Wales”. Stuart, who comes from Llanelli, is Emeritus Professor of Transport at the University of South Wales. He graduated in Economics at East Anglia University, is a specialist in the field of transport economics and has many years of experience in the development of transport systems in Europe, the Baltics and the Americas.
After a brief history going back to the times of George Stephenson and Brunel he moved on to cover how the responsibilities for policy have changed over the last 20 years or so and who is responsible now, right up to the formation of Transport for Wales (TfW) and TfW Rail Services early in 2021.
He explained the characteristics of a competitive franchising system and the history of rail privatisation. In Wales this involved the creation of the Wales & Borders Franchise and the involvement of North West Trains, Arriva Trains Wales and latterly TfW.
He outlined his future hopes for bus/rail integration, first recommended in 2005 but still to be fully realised, with the ambition of reducing the traffic levels on the M4 and other trunk roads. He explained the aim of integrated ticketing between rail and bus and pointed out the obvious difficulties in securing agreement and cooperation between the various organisations since bus companies are now privately owned. He showed us a colourful common livery designed for both trains and buses with lots of reds and greens which he had hoped to see implemented one day.
He reminded us of the history of the various rail companies which have operated in Wales and the Borders since privatisation and of the different classes of rolling stock in use, including the now defunct Pacers and the pending new stock such as the Class 197s. There is still, of course, insufficient rolling stock to meet passenger demand at peak times but new stock is due to be rolled out over the next couple of years and the vast majority of services operating in the region by the middle of the decade should be on new trains.
It was a most interesting talk on what has happened and the frustrations of what might have been if only more of the plans and promises could have been brought to fruition. Stuart’s remarkable optimism and energy to try to get things done were apparent and we wish him well in his efforts to continue to improve rail transport in our region.