Wales needs own Crossrail project

Mark Barry and Vaughan Gethin explore ways of plugging the capital’s connectivity gap with an integrated transport system

The Valley Line Electrification project will deliver a huge shot in the arm for the Welsh economy and will be the most significant investment in Welsh rail infrastructure since the Severn Tunnel was opened. What is in effect the first phase of a South Wales Metro will help the economy of the whole region. An electrified rail network will not only enhance connectivity, but will be more environmentally friendly and less costly to operate.

Regenerating Wales

This is the first of a new series outlining the potential impact major investment projects can have on the Welsh economy. Tomorrow Nick Bennett says social housing has a unique capacity to lever in private sector funding. On Friday Peter Hain makes the case for the Severn Barrage. On Saturday we look at a major new £250 million sports project for the Heads of the Valleys.

Whilst the benefits to the Valleys are clear – including faster and more frequent journeys to Cardiff – the benefits for Cardiff residents are more limited. This is especially true for 150,000 people across Cardiff – especially in the east from Roath to St Mellons which currently are not connected to the regional rail network.

It would be unthinkable for a UK city with a population of that size not to have any rail stations. In places like Rhondda Cynon Taf, Caerphilly and the Vale of Glamorgan, which will have the larger part of their populations served by the newly electrified Valley rail network, the average number of people per rail station will be 11,000~12,000. However,  the figure in Cardiff is over 17,000.

With electrification, many communities in the Valleys will have good access to the centre of Cardiff. Future concerns for these communities will be frequency of service and capacity rather than connectivity. Yet for many parts of Cardiff, the primary issue is lack of connectivity, let alone frequency and capacity. When one factors in the forecast 60,000 increase in Cardiff’s population by 2026, with an accompanying addition of 40,000 new homes, the challenges of delivering public transport in the city become even starker.

So, with a transport network designed for a city with less than 300,000 people, Cardiff needs to develop a network for one with more than 400,000 that is also at the heart of a city region of 1.4 million people. The South Wales Metro must address this challenge as well as providing connectivity to and from the Valleys.

One project that could begin to deliver a solution is a ‘Cardiff Crossrail’ to provide metro services across the city (see Figure 1).  An east-west Crossrail service from St Mellons in the east all the way to Creigiau (Junction 33 on the M4) in the west will use the electrified relief lines east of Cardiff Central, the city line and the reinstatement of the old track from Fairwater to Creigiau. A complementary north-south Crossrail service will operate from the M4’s Junction 32 on the Coryton line to the Bay, interchanging at Callaghan Square with the east-west line.

Figure 1 – Potential Cardiff Crossrail

By adopting European style tram-train technology (rail vehicles that can run on normal electrified heavy rail and on street in ‘tram mode’), the Crossrail project will also enable the long discussed light rail link between the city centre and the Bay.  ‘On street’ running south of Cardiff Central station, between Tyndal Street and the Taff rail bridge, will also free up capacity at Cardiff Central and link directly with a realigned tram-train route to the Bay, which could extend all the way to Porth Teigr and to the Sports Village.  The routing of the line could also connect Dumballs Rd, the Butetown estate, a possible Conference/Convention centre and provide the backbone for the Cardiff Enterprise Zone.

New or enhanced stations at places like Ely Bridge, St Mellons, Crwys Rd, Wedal Rd (for Heath Hospital), Rover Way, Splott, and Waterhall, will begin to address the relatively poor rail connectivity in many parts of the city. They could also be used to encourage regeneration and facilitate denser mixed-use development. Increased regional connectivity will also enhance the travel to work area of key towns in the valleys by giving a large number of people in Cardiff the option of accessing employment in places like Caerphilly and Pontypridd via connections between crossrail and Valley line services at Cardiff Central, Queen St, Ely Bridge, and Crwys Rd.

Combined with a turn up and go service frequency of four trains per hour using new high quality electric tram-train rolling stock and park and rides at Junctions 32 and 33, and St Mellons, a Cardiff  ‘Crossrail’  will attract many new passengers to the rail network.  Furthermore, by integrating bus services across the city (especially Fairwater, St Mellons and Rumney) on a single ticket, then a truly integrated transport system begins to emerge.

The Cardiff Crossrail project also provides opportunities to satisfy Welsh Government planning policy objectives as regards transport related development, set out in the recently published, Planning Policy Wales (Chapter 8). This paper included the following statements:

“…near major public transport interchanges in city, town and district centres, planning authorities should allocate available sites for uses that maximise the accessibility potential of the site, including high density residential development, employment, shopping and leisure uses. Local authorities should identify in development plans and Regional Transport Plans the need for additional interchange sites and improvements to existing interchanges… development plans should also encourage higher density and mixed-use development near public transport nodes, or near corridors well served by public transport… local authorities should identify in development plans and Regional Transport Plans the need for additional interchange sites and improvement to existing interchanges.”

The Cardiff Crossrail project provides multiple opportunities to deliver on these policy objectives by enabling a range of strategic development projects across Cardiff. Examples include:

  • Rover Way Station

A new station at Rover Way will serve the residential areas south of the railway, provide an interchange to bus services and more importantly, enable mixed use and denser development in and around Newport Rd/Colchester Avenue (which is currently dominated by six lanes of traffic and car parks separating shed-based retail).

  • Ely Bridge

Public transport access to the new Ely Bridge development can be significantly enhanced by the development of new station on the E-W line.  This can also connect Victoria Park and enable even higher density development at Ely Bridge/Mill.

  • Junction 33 and Waterhall

The proposals for up to 10,000 houses from Waterhall out to Junction 33 and Creigiau can only proceed once public transport to this part of Cardiff is significantly improved.  The east-west Crossrail proposal does this as well as enabling park and ride and commercial development at Junction 33.

  • St Mellons

In the same way as Junction 33, a rail station at St Mellons will underpin further commercial and residential development at St Mellons, provide a location for a park and ride and significantly improve public transport connectivity to the St Mellons estate.

  • Regeneration/Increased Commercial Activity  in/around Crwys Rd Station

A new station on the N-S Cardiff Crossrail will enable denser development in/around City Rd/Crwys Rd/Albany Rd and connect this dynamic part of Cardiff to the regional transport network.  The increasingly diverse retail and leisure offer in the area would also be stimulated by increasing its regional catchment.

  • Park and Ride at Junction 32/Coryton

An extension of the current Coryton line to J32 will serve a park & ride and provide vastly improved public transport access to Forest Farm and Green Meadow Springs business parks.

  • Cardiff Central Station to become a ‘gateway’ to Cardiff and the wider city region

By 2022, electrification will generate above trend flows on the Valley lines and the new services to London. Combined with a westward rail link to Heathrow, this will increase patronage on the Great Western Main Line. Cardiff Central will therefore need to be reconfigured and upgraded to handle more than 20 million entries/exits per year (compared with about 11.5 million in 2011) and provide a 21st Century, multi modal interchange at heart of the Cardiff Enterprise Zone. In turn that would integrate intercity services, Valley lines, tram-train, bus rapid transit, coach, local bus, river bus, pedestrians, taxis and cyclists.

  • Extensions to Newport and Rhonda Cynon Taf

It will be possible to extend the east-west Crossrail service to Newport and Llanwern in the east and to Rhondda Cynon Taf in the west. This is a project that Cardiff, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Newport councils could all support. Further extensions within Cardiff could also be considered.

Whist this project is costly (perhaps £150~200 million) it is affordable and can be delivered incrementally – especially when one considers the development potential enabled by its delivery. For example, when one considers that 40,000 new homes in Cardiff could secure a sales value of £6 billion (at £150,000 per residence) then it would not appear unreasonable or unrealistic to secure a proportion of this value to contribute to the overall costs of the Cardiff Crossrail project.

We also have to learn from other major transport-led regeneration projects. At a recent dinner in Cardiff, Terry Morgan, Chair of Crossrail in London, stressed the importance of using transport projects as a means of stimulating economic activity and regeneration and of exploiting the land use impact and value uplift that can result around new transport links and stations. The Cardiff Crossrail proposal provides multiple station-focussed development and regeneration opportunities across the city the value of which can be captured to help fund some of the development costs. So, by exploring a range of innovative funding mechanisms alongside more traditional sources, then over a period of perhaps 10 years a Cardiff Crossrail can be delivered.

With Cardiff Council revisiting its Local Development Plan and a Welsh Government Task Force investigating the Metro Concept, this is the right time to be putting forward projects such as a Cardiff Crossrail. However, to make it a reality, the Cardiff Crossrail scheme must be identified as one of a small number of strategic, regional Metro projects, alongside, for example, Ebbw Vale Town to Newport, Cross Valley Bus Rapid Transit, and perhaps a Valleys Circle Line. By augmenting the Metro’s first phase, resulting from electrification of the Valley lines, these projects can form the basis of a strategic Metro Plan for the region that can be delivered in a phased programme from 2017 to 2026.

Mark Barry is a member of the Metro Consortium and author of A Metro for Wales’ Capital City Region, published by the IWA with the Cardiff Business Partnership and Vaughan Gething is Labour AM for Cardiff South and Penarth.

14 thoughts on “Wales needs own Crossrail project

  1. Good article Mark with loads of options; like the idea of extending the Coryton link and providing a Park And Ride facility at M4 J32, which could provide a relatively quick solution. Hopefully electrification may take some of the heat out of this junction in the future, to offset additional traffic generated by a Park and Ride facility at this site.

    Couple of other things that jumped out at me.

    (i) Firstly – cost. This is something that I don’t know much detail of, but the price tag of £150 – £200 million for all options seems incredibly cheap to me. A quick search for Manchester Tram funding on google threw up the following website:

    …which seems to bandy figures of the order of £500 million about quite alot; admittedly, for a much larger city, but for extensions to an already existing core network?

    (ii) The title: ‘Wales needs it’s own Crossrail project’ – but for another Cardiff-centric proposal! I realise that this is geared to making the capital the real engine of the Welsh economy, but at what detriment to other potential transport projects in the remainder of Wales…and also for a city which to me will always play a catchup role to larger neighbour Bristol as part of the wider economy of the South west region?

  2. Simmo

    Thanks – you are right final cost will depend on scope. A phase 1 could only require some new stations and rolling stock on a post CASR/VLE existing network and cost <<£100M. A full network (but still using the existing rail network as the core backbone) may well exceed £200M. But it can be phased - with CASR/VLE and Tram-train this is possible - and can be tied to development potential. The heavy costs will come from new sections. Does Cardiff get everything? (Not my title either!) The last major transport scheme in Cardiff was the Butetown Tunnel in 1994. VLE will have a far greater impact in the Valleys than Cardiff. Post VLE I anticipate a range of strategic Metro schemes: Cardiff Crossrail, Valleys Circle, Ebbw Vale Town - Newport, etc.

  3. I’m all for cross-rail and it’s an exciting project. People in West Cardiff rarely go east, or the other way round, it’s long over due. It would help keep money spend local.

    But is there really going to be an increase of 60,000 people by 2026 – what, in effectively ten years time? Really? Do we really need 40,000 new homes? Is Cardiff facing an economic boom not seen since the 19th century?

    We’re told constantly of the demise of the Valleys, should we not try and make them grow rather than have an urban sprawl around Cardiff? More regular trains to the Rhondda, Taf, Llynfi, Rhymni, larger carriers would make commuting from there more attractive. Why effectively build 4 new towns when there are villages and towns nearby which can accommodate people and which already have infrastructure and shops?

    Is Cardiff going to build more Llanedeyrns – estates with no centre or street or hub which is such an attractive feature of the ‘old’ areas such as Splott, Grangetown? If it is going to build more houses, one would hope we’d go for larger units but in denser build – that is populations to the square km which will make services and shops viable. One would like to see housing more of the continental urban planning with a mix of apartments (with bigger rooms than those in the Bay which are empty), terraced housing and semis, rather than American-influenced urban sprawl. This sounds like a developer’s manifesto or trying to create an economy based on building houses – what then?

    Cross rail – good, anything to improve commuting and diminish our dependence on cars, but I’m really unconvinced with the projections of 60,000 new people in 10 years time, as it seems are many people across all parties. Also, as Simmo says, this is big news for Cardiff and east Glamorgan but it’s not an infrastructure ‘for Wales’. Shouldn’t we bring more infrastructure to Swansea – a Tawe Valley line and within Swansea city? Keeping existing spend with in Wales/Glamorgan-Gwent would be a great benefit to the local economy as would councils sourcing locally not always going for he cheapest option. It does seem to me that there’s an element of trying to build our selves out of a recession and building for the sake of it.

  4. A misleading title. Good on Cardiff but I was hoping this was going to be about reconnecting Carmarthen with Aberystwyth and on north and electrifying the line to the south west beyond Swansea. The Swiss can do it. Why can’t Wales….?

  5. Interesting point that the last major transport scheme in the Capital was in 1994 – it’s always surprised me that the Butetown link east was never completed, whereas Newport managed to build their equivalent road completely. Where I was coming from in terms of the ‘Cardiff-centric’ comment is not entirely transport oriented, and is given in more detail by Aneirin. Firstly it’s the news recently of more homes being planned in the immediate vicinity around Cardiff ( – to me this runs counter to the opportunity presented by electrification to regenerate housing up in the Valleys (rather than introduce additional housing in the immediate vicinity around Cardiff). Aneirin also touches upon the other thought that came to mind with me: that of a Tawe valley line (I can’t find the article, but there was one in IWA a couple years ago focussing on the potential of a rail circuit around Swansea – seemed to recall it mentioning a proposal for a Park and Ride on J47 (Swansea West) of the M4??). Valley line electrification will hopefully regenerate the Valleys but will still be of major benefit to Cardiff, the city being the focal point of nearly all the Valley lines.

    Is there disproportionately large growth and investment associated with Cardiff, it being the capital…or is it just that growth and investment are in proportion to the rest of Wales, just that Cardiff is bigger so projects are of a larger scale and attract inevitably more focus?

  6. I’m really concerned about the LDP. I’m not against the expansion of Cardiff which as Mark Barry notes is based on trend. I’m concerned that these large outlying estates are inevitably going to be built, where you have to own a car, where the houses are all spaced out with huge gardens, no density, no community hub, etc. Not dissimilar to what has been done at Pengam Moor where there are apartments and a huge green space, but you still have to own a car, and facilities and shops are miles away, and it feels like you’re not in Splott anymore. I can see a huge planning disaster waiting to happen. A developer’s dream but a social nightmare. There has to be an alternative.

  7. “It is a fact that Cardiff has grown from 305,000 to 346,000 in the period 2001 to 2011. A further 60,000 to 2026 is just maintaining that trend. ”

    My understanding (and you can correct me if I am wrong) was that figure of 305k was wrong and that the 2001 census missed a lot of people and the correct figure was close to 320K so just a growth of 26K people in 10 years, just cannot see that type of growth, and having lived in a American urban sprawl in LA and Denver with the traffic and accompanying “brown cloud” I am aware what that will mean. If memory serves me right they were predicting a growth of 80K.

  8. “It is a fact that Cardiff has grown from 305,000 to 346,000 in the period 2001 to 2011. A further 60,000 to 2026 is just maintaining that trend. ”

    …always suspicious when people talk of trend. Nothing is teleological. Politicians believed the housing boom would follow the trend but it didn’t happen. 40,000 new hopes …. is East Moors reopening or something to accommodate all these new workes?

    It seems Labour want to build more houses to create jobs but what happens when the houses are built? There’s still no jobs. 40,000 new units would probably mean some housing to those who don’t have their own home now, but it’s catering for a population of closer to 100,000 than 60,000. That’s a far east booming economy type growth. Growth is stagnant here. It’ll create a glut of housing as in Spain.

    The UK, thanks to Tory and Labour policies has created an economy based on the rentier class. It’s disfigured our policies, townscapes, economy and priority.

    Investing in cross-rail infrastructure is a good idea – but lets spread the love to include the Valleys… and let’s not forget Barry! Lets also look to strengthen our second city, Swansea and also extend the line to Six Bells and Ebbw Vale town centre. I’d also like to see cross-valleys services to try and keep the flow of money within the heads of the Valleys and not all down to Cardiff.

    There is absolutely no need or call for 40,000 new units (a town the size of Wrexam or Bridgend) in Cardiff. And if we are going to build then let’s build larger units but in denser areas closer to existing infrastructure not create a sprawl which will mean longer traffic jams on the M4 and A470. Let’s also spend the money on renovating and adapting existing house stock – this employs local workers and craftsmen more than building large wind-swept estates which are built by outside contract workers.

    If Vaughan Gething wants to help the Welsh economy (as the title of this article suggested) then amend directives to local authorities to give tenders to local businesses, invest in renovating housing stock, campaign to raise Council Tax on second homes and when we get taxation direct tax onto property and away from labour – that is, tax land not work. Part of the fundamental reason we have a property problem in the first place is because property is used by the rentier class. Let’s tackle that and then see if we need 40,000 new homes.

  9. Having rechecked the census data from 2011, the revised figure for 2001 is 310,000… so up by 36,000 to 346,000 in ten years. ~11% growth. On that trend a further 60,000 to 2026 is entirely plausible. I am no fan of bland urban sprawl and support denser development around new/existing transport nodes. Cardiff is not, or never will be, an LA or Denver – they are orders of magnitude bigger. What Cardiff can/must do is develop some dense greenfield and increase density within the core of the city by better use of brownfield sites. We should also be cognisant of the fact that significant amounts of land have been allocated to housing in adjacent local authorities and that some of this is also greenfield? I don’t think Cardiff can be seen to be exporting the need for greenfield development to adjacent authorities, especially when the transport infrastructure the region needs is not yet in place.


  10. Phase One of the South Wales Metro is happening – it’s called Valley Lines Electrification and will benefit residents in RCT, Merthyr, Caerphilly, VoG, etc…. the impact is more limited in Cardiff. Hence my suggestion of the Cardiff Crossrail. I have also made the case for the Ebbw Vale Town – Newport link, A Valleys Circle, etc…so my thinking does cover the whole region.

    I am also suspicious of trying to move economic activity to where politicians would like it…. the market does not work that way.
    In parallel with population growth, according to Stats Wales, to 2011 there was an increase of over 30,000 in Cardiff’s workplace employment, or about 17%, from the ~180,000 in 2001. This is over 80% of the net total increase for all of SE Wales. This in a period when £000sM of EU funds have been directed away from Cardiff. So we need to invest in opportunity and not just exclusively in need.

  11. Money should be spent on opening a line from Swansea to Aberystwyth and from there to the north. There is more to Wales than Cardiff although you wouldn’t have thought so the way some people behave.

  12. Vaughan Gething would better address himself to the cutting of £25 million from the bus grant by his New Labour government chums in the bay. Wrecking existing local bus services across Wales is of more concern to people, than his train spotter pie in the sky ideas.

  13. ‘A Welsh Crossrail’? Crossrail is a heavy-rail system (with most of the new infrastructure being tunnels), not a surface tram/train system.

    Some comments on some of the other comments which have been posted above:

    On Swansea… I’ve often thought that some of the freight-only lines around Swansea should be looked at, to see if they could be used to create a ValleyLines style network for Swansea. The existing freight lines are:
    – Resolven – Neath Abbey – Swansea Docks, (this actually starts nearer Glyn-Neath, it’d only require an extension of about 6.15 miles to link it (via Glyn-Neath) to the frieght-only line at Hirwaun)
    – Onllwyn – Seven Sisters – Crynant – Neath Abbey – Swansea Docks and
    – Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen – Ammanford Central – Pantyffynnon (although rather circuitous routes to Swansea, via Llanelli or via Llandarcy (the latter to Swansea Docks) would be necessary without building new track from Gowerton through Gorseinon to cut the corner off.)

    Unfortunately Swansea Docks is not near the mainline (Swansea High Street) station, and to reach Swansea High Street from Swansea Docks would probably require a tram not a train. But no matter, a tram has the added benifit of being able to be extened to Mumbles.

    On Swansea/Carmarthen/Cardiff to Aberystwyth…
    You’d need to straighten parts of the route of the Carmarthen – Aberystwyth line quite alot to make it faster than the bus, and that would make it more expensive and hence less of an immediate prospect. Of more immediate concern is the current absence of a Carmarthen – Aberystwyth TrawsCambria/TrawsCymru service. I would like to see the Welsh Government use their lawmaking powers to find a way of delivering the hourly 6am to 8pm service TC1 and six new buses promised a while ago, but blocked by Arriva Buses Wales.

    Going back to railways, if you want to speed up journeys between Cardiff and Carmarthen (and hence on to Milford Haven, Fishguard, and Aberystwyth if the bus service from Carmarthen is sorted) you could knock around 15minutes off the current journey time with no new infrastructure works by missing out Swansea and calling at only Llanelli, Port Talbot and Bridgend using the almost-criminally underused Swansea District Line. I’d say that’s more important than building a new Carmarthen – Aberystwyth line (or even adding additional trains over the soon to be redoubled route from Carmarthen into Swansea) in the short term.

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