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.

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