Rollout of bus franchising in Wales could see Transport for Wales (TfW) railway staff in “more rural areas” driving rail replacement road services, Chief Executive James Price has claimed.
Such a position was put before the Senedd Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee on 22 November. Mr Price says that it forms part of TfW’s bid to “go further than Transport for London” on integrated transport in an approach that will “deliver services in a joined-up way with joined-up teams.”
Despite those words, TfW is not yet committed to introducing the policy as part of the franchised bus network that the Welsh Government aspires to. Mr Price accepts that the organisation is “sensitive to our trade union partners” on the matter, although he says that some “positive conversations” have already taken place with rail staff representatives.
The idea takes account of what TfW says is difficulties with sourcing rail replacement vehicles from nearby operators in rural areas. It appears to refer only to calls for road transport in an emergency, rather than for pre-planned railway closures.
“One of the options we are looking at is that some of our [railway] station staff could hold [PCV] licences, and would be able to access a local bus that would be maintained and insured for us by one of our franchise provider systems,” Mr Price says, noting that “those types of things are done elsewhere in the world.”
It is not clear whether the vehicles referred to by Mr Price will be held especially for emergency rail replacement or whether they will be drawn from fleets otherwise used for franchised local bus services.
The proposal appears not to consider that the majority of rural rail stations in Wales are unstaffed, although TfW Chief Operations Officer Jan Chaudhry-Van Der Velde told the Committee that when a train terminates early and rail replacement vehicles are required, an attempt is always make that modal change at a railway station where staff are present.
Mr Price also notes that in planning future franchised bus networks in Wales via partnership with local authorities and corporate joint committees, there will be an aspiration to end competition between bus and rail over common corridors.
He says that otherwise, public money would be facilitating the two modes “to compete with each other.” Instead, parties involved in planning networks will “work out what is the most appropriate route for a particular journey type, and then use the money that is saved to punch further into the local community to allow more people to use services.”
Responding to Huw Irranca-Davies MS, Mr Price told the Committee that under those circumstances, TfW would anticipate bus services acting as feeders into and out of rail nodes. The potential impact on passenger numbers of introducing additional changes during a journey drew no comment.
On the introduction of bus franchising in Wales, Mr Price says that while the rollout will be phased, the country in its entirety could see reregulation “quite [quickly]” once legislation is passed.
Transcription of full Committee session here.