Wales nationalises train operations after Covid passenger slump

By Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

Wales has nationalised its train operations after a large drop in passenger numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The day-to-day running of rail services will be brought under direct public control, ending the franchise run by Keolis and Amey since 2018.

The Welsh government’s transport minister, Ken Skates, said the move, to be completed by February, would help secure the future of Transport for Wales passenger services and protect jobs.

He said the move would still allow the Welsh government’s plans for a Metro system in south Wales, part of the original franchise agreement, to go ahead, and that there would be a new partnership with Keolis and Amey to help deliver transport services.

Passenger numbers dropped to as little as 5% of normal levels after the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with Wales imposing longer and more stringent restrictions on travel than other parts of the UK.

Skates said: “The last few months have been extremely challenging for public transport in Wales and across the UK. Covid has significantly impacted passenger revenues, and the Welsh government has had to step in with significant support to stabilise the network and keep it running.”

James Price, the chief executive of Transport for Wales said: “There is no doubt that there will be difficult decisions in the future as we adapt to the realities of a post-Covid era, but this agreement will give us a stable base from which to build back better.”

Unions welcomed the decision, but the RMT called on the UK government to devolve further powers that would allow the the Welsh government to make the move permanent and “ensure the railways in Wales have a safe, secure and sustainable future in public ownership”.

Mick Whelan, the general secretary of Aslef, the train drivers’ union, said: “Although this decision has been announced in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, we hope that it sends a message to the governments at Holyrood and Westminster about the way forward for our industry.”

Rail franchises across England were in effect nationalised this year when the government suspended franchises and underwrote losses in emergency measures agreements. However, the UK government has said it wants to retain private sector involvement the railways, though the future shape of the industry is uncertain. Short-term “recovery contracts” were issued last month while the government withholds the publication of the Williams review, pending the course of the pandemic.