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Transport for Wales celebrates fleet performance

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Transport for Wales is delighted to confirm that it has hit fleet availability targets every day for more than a year.

In what has been one of the most turbulent years on record, the consistent approach in which enough trains have been delivered to fulfil the timetable each day has meant customers have faced fewer cancellations and been able to travel with more capacity and confidence.

As availability has increased, so too have the Miles Per Technical Incident (MTIN), thanks to the hard work of TfW’s maintenance teams at Cardiff Canton, Machynlleth and Holyhead, and the train planning and operations teams.

While 2019-20 saw the timetable change significantly, other challenges included introducing the Class 170 fleet, delivering train refurbishments, removing the Class 142 Pacers from service, and measures put in place during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The team also had the challenge of delivering the December 2019 timetable, where Sunday services increased by 40%, on a day that would typically allow maintenance work to be carried out.

Jonathan Thomas, Transport for Wales’ Head of Fleet, said: “We’re so proud have hit this target, given the difficulties in 2018 and it shows just how far we’ve come as a team. Implementing an availability growth plans, along with a review of our organisation structure to embed a strong core to fulfil our plans has really paid dividends.

“We’ve also worked more dynamically with operations, planning and performance to enable our core maintenance teams to deliver the targets despite the challenges of COVID-19, and this is a real success story for us and our customers.”

Marie Daly, TfW’s Interim Chief Operating Officer, said: “We have been talking about achieving this fantastic milestone almost in whispers, so as not to jinx reaching this.

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“In a year that no one could have predicted, our people have never stopped amazing me with the commitment to serving our customers. Well done to all fleet colleagues and thanks for giving us all a reason to smile.”

Meeting the daily unit requirement was one of the first major challenges Transport for Wales faced after taking over the Wales and Borders rail service. Shortly after operations commenced in October 2018, the TfW fleet was decimated by one of the worst autumn seasons on record. Storms, flooding and a huge increase in wheel flats pushed TfW’s fleet team to the limit as they worked round the clock to carry out repairs.

Some days saw almost a third of all trains out of action with damage, leaving customers facing uncomfortable journeys on short formed trains and some services cancelled altogether.

Since then a robust reliability plan has been implemented in fleet, coupled with targeted investment in wheel slide protection, auto sanding and in the wheel lathe itself. Increased availability of materials and improved supply chain management further strengthened TfW’s ability to forecast and model workload and mitigate risks in a timely manner.

As a result, Autumn 2019 saw a vast improvement, and despite three major back-to-back storms in January and February 2020, TfW were able to exceed delivery targets for a full calendar year.

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Cardiff Airport

Aer Lingus restarts Cardiff to Belfast flights

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Through its partner Emerald Airlines, Irish airline Aer Lingus has restarted domestic UK flights between Belfast in Northern Ireland and Welsh capital, Cardiff.

Aer Lingus Regional operator, Emerald Airlines will link the two capital cities five times weekly from 7 July.

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Flights are now on sale and available to book at aerlingus.com, with fares starting from £39.99.

Emerald Airlines opened its base at Belfast City, just five minutes from the city centre, earlier this year. Cardiff’s inclusion in the airline’s latest expansion at the Welsh Government owned airport, which it says is great news for passengers wanting to re-unite with friends and family, fly for business and sports travel or explore Belfast on a city break.

“Thanks a million to Emerald Airlines for announcing that it will restart the critical connection between Cardiff and Belfast under the Aer Lingus banner,” said Marc Watkins, Aviation Development Manager at Cardiff Airport

“It’s great that our customers looking to fly between Wales and Northern Ireland no longer have to travel via England. The schedule and days of the week that flights are being operated are fantastic – whether you’re catching up with friends and relatives, needing to travel between the two cities for work, or for tourists visiting Belfast to enjoy the craic.”

With the recent opening of the highly anticipated Game of Thrones Studio Tour in nearby Banbridge, the timing of the start of the service could not be better. Other attractions in Belfast and the surrounding area include the Titanic Belfast visitor attraction and the natural beauty of the Giant’s Causeway near Coleraine.

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Commenting on the announcement, Ciarán Smith, Head of Commercial at Emerald Airlines said: “As we near the peak summer months, the launch of our Cardiff services will provide those travelling to Belfast with more choice when planning their holidays. When quick getaways are on the top of everyone’s mind, we are offering convenient timings and low fares, increasing connectivity to and from Northern Ireland.

“We are extremely pleased with the feedback we have received since beginning our operations from Belfast City Airport and believe Cardiff is a great new connection that will cater to both business and leisure travellers with direct, convenient and cost-effective flights to the Northern Irish capital.”

Flights from Cardiff to Belfast depart at 12.00pm on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday each week.

Flights from Belfast depart at 10.10am on the same days.

(Lead image: Cardiff Airport / Aer Lingus / Emerald Airlines)

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Great Western Railway

Severn Rail Tunnel to close for engineering works

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Trains that run through the Severn Tunnel between Bristol and South Wales will be affected as part of an ongoing programme of rail improvement work this July.

Network Rail say they will carry out essential track maintenance as well as testing the electrical power supply in the tunnel in July.

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The work will see more than two miles of track, sleepers and ballast (the stones on the railway) replaced to ensure the continued safe and reliable operation of the railway.

The new track will also enable the removal of a temporary 50mph speed restriction through the tunnel, improving passenger’s journeys and reducing the risk of infrastructure faults.

The track work will affect Great Western Railway services from Friday 1 to Sunday 10 July.

David Bailey, GWR’s customer service manager for South Wales, said: “The work inside the Severn Tunnel will support our train service in Wales, especially those trains running under electric power serving Cardiff Central and Newport.

“We will divert long-distance trains via an alternative route and provide road transport between Newport and Bristol Parkway to ensure customers can complete their journeys.”

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Trains between London and South Wales will use an alternative route between Swindon and Newport, stopping at Gloucester instead of Bristol Parkway.

A limited train service will still run between London Paddington and Bristol Parkway on weekdays only, otherwise they will travel via Bristol Temple Meads instead.

Buses will replace trains between Bristol Parkway and Newport, with customers advised to plan their journey beforehand.

In addition, buses will also replace trains at Lawrence Hill and Stapleton Road for Filton Abbey Wood or Bristol Parkway on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 July.

Follow-up engineering work is planned that will affect trains between Bristol and South Wales on Sunday 17 July and again on Sunday 14 August (until midday).

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Mark Dix, Project Manager at Network Rail, said: “The Severn Tunnel is a vital rail link for passengers travelling between Wales and England, so it is extremely important that we invest in its future.

“Once this work is finished, passengers travelling via Bristol Parkway will experience fewer delays with much more reliable journeys.

“I appreciate that this work is going to cause some disruption for passengers, so I would like to thank them in advance for their patience.”

(Lead image: Network Rail / GWR)

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Transport

£48m ‘gap funding’ support package for Welsh bus industry

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The bus industry in Wales is set to receive a support package worth £48m to help them recover from the impact of the pandemic and deal with emerging financial challenges, the Welsh Government has announced today.

The Bus Emergency package will provide ‘gap funding’ until the end of this financial year for bus operators to maintain the necessary bus services and routes in their area, in return for greater public control over Welsh bus services.

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This funding is one of a number of short-term measures that have been taken by the Welsh Government to support bus operators at a time when they needed it the most. With the longer-term future of the bus industry in mind a review of the existing Bus Services Support Grant (BSSG) scheme will also be taken to consider how it can be used to move the industry away from a reliance on emergency funding schemes and bridge the gap to franchising.

Announcing the latest emergency funding package, Deputy Minister for Climate Change, with a responsibility for transport, Lee Waters said: “The bus industry is emerging from some of its toughest times, and we need to continue to provide support to help the industry recover and secure a healthy future.

“During the pandemic passenger numbers fell by around 90% and have still only returned to between 50% and 70% of pre-Covid levels, leaving operators struggling with reduced revenue and contending with the latest challenges of rising fuel and operating costs.

“The funding I’ve announced today will provide a short-term solution to help the industry to begin to recover from the challenges it has and continues to face whilst we develop a longer-term solution to tackle the gradual decline in passengers over the years.

“In March I set out our plans to bring forward legislation to change the way bus services are delivered across Wales. Throughout this process we will be working closely with local government, the bus industry and passengers, to design a system that is ‘easy to use, easy to access and well connected’ providing people a ‘real sustainable transport alternative’ to the private car.

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“We will provide an update on how these plans are progressing later this year.”

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