This article first appeared in Business News Wales, with our CEO Alistair Gordon as guest author.
Over a thousand maintenance activities overdue. A tired and inadequate depot. Old, unreliable rolling stock and not enough of it. Storm Callum sweeping in.
Keolis operate public transport systems across the World and it’s fair to describe what faced us in Wales on our first day as operator of the Wales and Borders network as daunting.
That said, we also took control of a formidable and talented workforce – 2,200 front line, support and specialist staff who care as passionately as we do about improving the passenger experience and who have embraced what we are helping to deliver through Transport for Wales.
Those 2,200 staff we inherited in 2018 are now almost 3,000. Local drivers, engineers, apprentices, and a whole host besides have been added to the KeolisAmey Wales team – all working as one, alongside Transport for Wales, to help deliver the change Wales desired.
We took the challenge to transform the network and we have secured some of Keolis’ brightest and best from our operations around the world to join us to share their expertise. These are individuals who have led on the delivery of the Channel Tunnel, the Doha Metro system, Boston’s rail network and integrated transport gold standards in Lyon, Dijon and Bordeaux in France. We are very fortunate in Wales to have a team full of talent all pulling together to deliver something special, specific to Wales, and being supported by exceptional talent both from here in Wales and from across our international businesses.
It’s this combination of local and international knowledge (along with an unprecedented investment of £50million so far) which has helped us tackle head on issues we faced both on day one and shortly after – be it managing an challenging fleet of trains through prolonged storms, to getting to grips with insufficient rolling stock or delivering a reliable, safe service through this pandemic.
December 2019 saw us introduce one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching timetable changes of the last 30 years – improving the consistency and reliability of services for passengers and increasing the capacity on the network. A massive 40% up lift in Sunday services has created new economic and leisure opportunities for communities across the network.
Recent months have seen the timetable amended again, with our talented team turning a process which usually takes months into weeks and ensuring trains and passengers have been safe to continue to travel during the Covid19 restrictions.
We’ve introduced an upgraded and refurbished fleet – with the refurbished Class 153 and 175s and the excellent 170s providing a significant step up from the Pacers which Welsh passengers have had to endure for far too long.
Then there’s the little things, often done behind the scenes but which we know can and have made a big difference to passengers, which includes:
- Fitting trains with gold standard wheel slide protection to significantly reduce the number of tyre flats incidents which had plagued Wales during adverse winter conditions (no wheel flats last autumn on the trains we fitted)
- Upgrading our maintenance depots to enhance the working conditions of colleagues and to support improvements in maintenance productivity.
- Extending the lifespan of the train fleet through improved maintenance regimes and at the same time making them more reliable for passengers.
- Making our stations and trains more attractive, accessible and clean.
- Developing and introducing projects and pipelines to ensure we give innovative, talented start-ups and local Welsh companies the support and business they deserve. As a result bringing new ideas to improve the customer experience.
- Putting innovative new systems in place to identify and deal with potentially dangerous vegetation
- Making full use of our international partners to develop and implement a better system for major events in and around Cardiff and elsewhere.
- Providing new and improved ticketing options – smarter, more flexible and more in line with what’s on offer elsewhere internationally, with more to come.
- Making great strides in supporting the sustainability of our operation
- Introducing the very best engineering and infrastructure tools and systems – helping save Transport for Wales and the Welsh tax-payer millions of pounds.
…and a whole host besides.
All of this has resulted in having better, more frequent trains running on Welsh tracks. But this contract was never been about merely improving on what was already there.
We are here to support the delivery of Transport for Wales’ ambitious plans for transforming rail services and the introduction of a new Metro system for South Wales. On that front, we are now turning the corner.
In amongst the negative impacts of Covid19, we’ve seen the commencement of work on infrastructure for the Metro system, which will be introduced on the Core Valleys Lines and had an exciting glimpse at the new tram-trains which will run on them and the tri-modes coming to the Rhymney line . These are being built as we speak, specifically for use in Wales.
Trains are also being built and refurbished for operations elsewhere – with North Wales soon to benefit from additional trains, having undergone extensive improvements and rigorous testing. We are finally putting an end to the Pacers in Wales – confining them to the Wales and Borders history books and running newer, better and more customer friendly trains across the Transport for Wales network – with increased capacity, higher reliability and better passenger comfort.
We are recruiting new drivers – the latest recruitment drive has attracted more than 10,000 applications to join our team – to ensure that when the new trains and infrastructure are ready, we have a workforce which is professionally trained, qualified and ready to deliver the services Wales needs.
We’ve moved our UK headquarters to Wales, have reinvested all revenue back into the rail service here and spent an additional £50m supporting Transport for Wales and the Welsh Government’s vision – a huge commitment on our part to the future prosperity of the rail network.
But, as a regular user of the Welsh network myself, I know there is so much more to be done. We are an operation that, despite Covid19, needs to move into the next phase of delivery apace. It’s what our passengers expect and deserve and it’s why turning this corner is genuinely exciting.
The level of transformation we are supporting Transport for Wales to deliver in Wales is something of international significance. It has taken all our international, local and industry expertise and skills to come so far in a little under two years since we moved our operation to Wales. The foundations have been set and we stand ready to play our part in supporting Welsh Government’s ambitions as we enter an exciting new period which will help shape and define the Welsh rail service of the future.