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Covid 19 Challenges and Moving Forward with the South Wales Metro

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Written by James Williams, Transport for Wales

Over the last three months Covid-19 has changed the world and transformed the way in which we work and how we may work in the future.

From a transport perspective, the situation has been one that has constantly been evolving and we’ve seen dramatic changes across our business.

We have been in accordance with the Welsh Government throughout and will be every step of the way as we continue to move forward.

At the start of the pandemic we reduced our rail services and our message was fully aligned with that of the government – for people to stay at home.  We kept some of our rail services running, roughly 500 a day to ensure we provided essential travel links for our key workers.

We’re extremely proud of our workforce, who themselves are key workers, for showing professionalism and dedication during this difficult time.

Our main priority has always been the safety of our colleagues and customers, and we immediately began to ramp up our cleaning efforts with extra staff and the introduction of new anti-viral cleaning products.

It was at this time that we were able to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability, and we teamed up with Hensol Castle Distillery and supported their business diversification to produce hand sanitiser.  We purchased thousands of litres to be used by colleagues and customers.

This partnership is a great example of the collaboration and development of business relationships that have been accelerated because of the pandemic and the need for a unified approach.

As a not-for-profit company, TfW has always maintained a very open approach to collaboration and social partnership; we’re already working with a range of stakeholders including local authorities, local communities, tourism leaders, transport providers and delivery partners.  These links have been and will continue to be fundamental during these testing times, as well as the establishment of our advisory panel.

As time moved on, we slightly increased the number of rail services and capacity across our network and were grateful that the public listened to government advice as our passenger figures were down an estimated 95%.

These major changes have an obvious impact on revenue and business, which resulted in a six-month, Emergency Measures Agreement between Transport for Wales, Transport for Wales Rail Services and Welsh Government.  It was an absolute priority for us to ensure our rail services could continue to operate and assist the country at a time of need.

With our services running and providing vital links for key workers, and our safety measures in place, we then launched our travel safer campaign to provide information and clarity for public transport users.

The campaign asks that people follow five key principles – to stay safe, avoid busy periods, follow our latest advice, exercise while you travel and show respect to our colleagues and other passengers at all times.

As part of this campaign we have made some key commitments to our customers, including prioritising their health, safety and well-being in all our decisions, keeping them well informed, keeping our services as clean as possible, encouraging social distancing on our services and at our stations, and providing our teams with extra support to protect them while they’re helping customers.

Another region that we’ve expanded into is the provision of bus services, and during the lockdown period we’ve launched our fflecsi pilot scheme in certain areas.  A partnership project between TfW, local councils and bus operators, and powered by technology from ViaVan, fflecsi is a demand-responsive transport model.  It replaces a number of scheduled local bus services with more flexible services that can pick up and drop off near work, shops and homes by request, rather than following a set timetable at fixed bus stops.

 

Since launching in Newport in May, we’ve now extended the pilot to north Cardiff and have plans for it to continue growing.  So far, we’re pleased with the results of the pilot and it has allowed us to assist in providing social distancing on bus services.

Bringing the attention back to our train services, the look and feel of our stations and trains has been transformed as we’ve continued to prioritise safety.  Customers now experience social distance signage, hand sanitising facilities, one-way systems, extra cleaners and guards and limited spaces on our services.

As stated at the very start of this article, the Covid-19 pandemic is an evolving situation and we’ve seen changes regarding face coverings, and quite recently UK Government have proposed changes to the 2-metre social distancing rule.

As we continue to move forward, we’re sure to see more changes and our advice will be altered to adhere to policy – it’s absolutely fundamental that those using public transport continue to follow our up to date advice, and we ask that the business community in Wales help promote our messaging.

We’ve already started engaging with the business community and asked that they take part in a survey to help with our future transport planning.

We understand how fundamental transport is to business and the economy, and Covid-19 will mean that we’ll need to re-evaluate how we work and commute in the future.

In the short term, our focus at TfW, as with all businesses, is to provide safety for colleagues and customers and ensure all our services are safe in the fight against Covid-19.  However, in the long term we are still focused on transformational delivery.

Although Covid-19 has and will continue to present many challenges, our biggest achievement last year – and it was actually completed during the pandemic (March 2020) – was the successful transfer of the Aberdare, Coryton, Merthyr Tydfil, Rhymney and Treherbert lines infrastructure, known as the Core Valleys Lines (CVL), from Network Rail to TfW.

At the very start of this year, we opened our Treforest Infrastructure Hub, which is home to around 200 colleagues and will play a vital role in the delivery and future maintenance of the South Wales Metro.  We also started constructing our new £100 million Metro Control Centre in Taff’s Well – a facility for our new tram-trains and control centre for the Metro.

With the railway lines now in our ownership, we will begin transformational work on 3rd August 2020 and we’ll start to build the South Wales Metro.