Mark Barry offers an insight into the South Wales Metro Project to date.
Following the publication of my Metro Impact Study in October 20131, I worked for Welsh Government until January this year leading the further development of Metro; an enormously challenging project that has the potential to transform the economy of South East Wales and help define the Cardiff Capital Region.
This is a long journey. It’s five years since my report, “A Metro for Wales’ Capital City Region”2, was published making the case for a step change in regional public transport connectivity and the adoption of integrated city region economic, transport and land use planning; two more reports followed. We should also acknowledge that calls for better connectivity and regional governance were being made as long ago as 1936, by Prof. Marquand of University College Cardiff in his book, “South Wales Needs a Plan”3. More recently Eddington4, The Wales Transport Research Centre5, SEWTA6, the Wales Spatial Plan7, Cardiff University8 and the Cardiff Capital Region Board9, have all contributed to the debate. Yes, a long journey, but now moving into a procurement & delivery phase.
Commitment to deliver the Metro…
There are plenty of details in Welsh Government’s, “Rolling out our Metro” and on its website10, but in summary, the South Wales Metro is the beginning of a fundamental upgrade of the public transport network in South East Wales. First Minister Carwyn Jones’ statement on November 30th 2015 underpins the ambition11, “The Metro project represents the future of public transport in South East Wales which will provide faster journey times and more frequent services covering a greater area. It is an ambitious project linking people and jobs across South Wales in a fast, efficient and environmentally positive way.”
Officials in Cardiff and London have been working to overcome the institutional barriers to long term transformational projects like the South Wales Metro. These efforts have been enabled as a result of the ambition and commitment of former Minister Edwina Hart and First Minister Carwyn Jones. Credit must also be paid to former Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb who helped resolve the funding dispute over valleys line electrification in 2014.
Last year, Welsh Government committed in principle £580M12 to the South Wales Metro. With the City Deal, based upon a unified approach from the region’s local authorities and support from The UK Government, there is a prospect of extending the scope of the core Welsh Government Metro programme to create a transformational capital project of over £700M13.
To deliver Metro Welsh Government set up, “Transport for Wales”14 which is currently being skilled up with capable individuals with experience of light rail, heavy rail, franchising, transport planning, innovative procurement and major programme management. Transport for Wales will manage the output based (so mode agnostic) procurement of the Wales & Borders franchise and Metro, adopting a competitive dialogue based process to drive the most innovation and value for money. This is the kind of innovation the Westminster Public Accounts Committee recommended should be applied to rail franchising across the UK15. Wales is leading the way for the UK in this regard.
The conclusion of this procurement is perhaps 18 to 24 months away, when the project risks will have been more accurately assessed. It is at that time the detailed scope, capital costs and phasing of the project can be more accurately defined.
Metro: A Transformational Project…
Given my work over the last five years, I think it likely, given current constraints of heavy rail operations16, that innovative “lighter rail“ solutions will be required on some of the core valley network to deliver the faster and more frequent services desired in an affordable way.
The biggest benefits of a “lighter” approach for Metro Phase 2 (Figure 2), will be felt in places like Caerphilly, Pontypridd, Aberdare and Merthyr. Four services an hour from Merthyr to Cardiff in approximately 45 minutes17 is a step change from the current twice hourly 60 plus minute service. More transformational, places like Nelson could be connected with four services an hour taking less than 35 minutes to Queen St. At peak times up to 24 services per hour will pass through Queen Street Station in each direction. Traditional heavy rail is constrained to a theoretical maximum of 16tph in each direction through Queen St; this is the “Brynglas tunnel” of the rail network.
Building on this core network, an ongoing implementation programme could see new stations and network extensions across Cardiff City Centre/Bay, to Lower Rhondda Cynon Taf from North West Cardiff, to Abertillery from the Ebbw Valley Line and Newport and cross-valley Bus Rapid Transit schemes.
Adding to the capital, an operational subsidy over say 15 years could make this procurement a £3Bn plus transaction; the biggest I suspect Welsh Government has ever undertaken to deliver a project of international significance. We are just about to embark on the delivery of perhaps the most transformational public transport project anywhere in the UK. It’s not as big as Crossrail in financial terms but the impact on our economy will, I suspect, be proportionally far bigger. In ten years’ time, people from across the UK will be asking, “How did they do that, it’s amazing, Wales is really going places…” This really is a game changer.
Addressing the challenges to build the Cardiff Capital Region…
Once we recognise the scale of the project, there are a range of other challenges to address and further benefits we need to exploit. My new part time role at Cardiff University’s School of Geography and Planning as Professor of Practice in Connectivity, will allow me to explore some of these and allow the University to play a more pivotal role in the wider project. We need a collective approach to respond to the challenges and opportunities that face us and use the Metro to address them and to build our region. These include:
Creating a new sense of place for the region
Whilst recognising the long standing allegiance many of us have to our local communities, especially in the valleys, we also need to create a new bigger sense of place across the region. A trip to Porth from Bargoed, from St Mellons to Nantgarw or from Newport to Pontypridd must be seen as normal and necessary to build the regional economy.
In the Verband Region Stuttgart (Cardiff’s twin city), alongside transport and economic development, the contribution of its green infrastructure is equally valued. We also need to leverage our region’s unique green infrastructure in developing our narrative.
There needs to be a wider public discourse across the region to develop this new sense of place; in doing so, there is a unique opportunity for our schools and FE colleges to contribute to this debate so as not to leave the agenda in the hands of business groups, government and local authorities. Small local arts and community groups could play a part as Metro could also be aligned with more significant cultural and/or sporting events.
There needs to be a wider public discourse across the region to develop this new sense of place. Stuttgart started its successful regional journey in the early 1990s so we have some way to go. It’s worth looking at this Stuttgart Region video as an example of what can be achieved.
A coordinated and strategic approach to regional planning and development
Across The Cardiff Capital Region, more needs to be done to embed the delivery of the Metro vision in operational structures that explicitly link development (especially housing and employment sites) and economic development to the planning of the regions transport network. Some of this will require a statutory approach; more importantly perhaps we need a new kind of regional thinking to embed “transit oriented development” in the work of planners and developers. There are lessons I am sure we can learn from places Stuttgart.
The adoption of the Future Generations & Wales Planning Bills and the development of a strategic development plan (SDP) for the region, the city deal with its anticipated “Regional Transport Authority” and local government reorganisation is perhaps an opportunity to address our regional governance issues once and for all.
Development of a stratified economic development plan for the entire region
One unfounded criticism of Metro is that, ”it’s all about dragging people to Cardiff”. Well, yes and no; better access to Cardiff from across the region also means better access across the region from Cardiff.
The challenge in developing an economic development strategy is to recognise the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities related to each key location, to develop a stratified proposition for the region as a whole. In reality, the majority of high value jobs the region needs (and is still lacking) will be in Cardiff. At the same time places like Pontypridd, Newport, Merthyr and Bridgend could and should attract and support complementary activities and play a more prominent role in the regional economy.
The transport integration challenge
The transport integration challenge is also daunting. As an example, consider I pay a £3 fare when I get on my local bus and then on the same £3 ticket, travel for some of that journey on a train. How much of that £3 should the bus operator give to the train operator? When should that happen? Who decides how much and when? How are such payments processed? What ticketing technologies should we use?
Questions like these are at the heart of the problem. If you can answer them and account for the different levels of grant and subsidy being contributed by Welsh Government across the various networks and their very different regulatory environments, we might be getting close to a solution.
Integration also requires Metro stations to provide better passenger facilities and become a focal point for their communities. This will impact station design, local place making and accommodate active travel. This is an area local authorities must also play their part.
To deliver integration, Wales needs a powerful operational transport planning and procurement organisation that can work with transport operators, government and local/regional authorities. Transport for Wales could evolve to be just that organisation.
The prognosis is good…
After much effort, Metro will happen with the first major components likely to open in the early 2020s. Whilst there will no doubt be further challenges and obstacles, with the right organisation, governance and culture and of course a continuation of the clear political remit established by the last Welsh Government, they can be overcome.
We should be encouraged by recent progress and the positive attitude of all those involved in the Metro. Deep down we know we need to undertake transforming projects such as Metro to enhance the economic prospects of the entire region. This is a very long journey – but after many years of talking we have now gone beyond those tentative first steps.
1. M Barry & Metro Consortium, October 2013, “Metro Impact Study” commissioned by The Minister for Economy Science and Transport in April 2013, http://wales.gov.uk/topics/transport/public/metro/?lang=en
2. M Barry, 2011, “A Metro for Wales’ Capital City Region, Connecting Cardiff Newport & The Valleys”, Cardiff Business Partnership & The institute of Welsh Affairs http://www.iwa.org.uk/en/publications/view/204
3. H A Marquand, Prof Industrial Relations University College Cardiff, 1936, “South Wales Needs A Plan”, George Allen & Unwin.
4. Eddington, 2006, “Eddington Transport Study”, UK Chancellor of The Exchequer and The Secretary of State for Transport
5. Prof Stuart Cole & Wales Transport Research Centre, 2009, “Rail Infrastructure in Wales, Challenges of the next 25 Years”, University of Glamorgan
6. South East Wales Transport Alliance (SEWTA) and The Integrated Transport Task Force, 2012, “Proposals for The Delivery of a Future Transport Network”,
7. Welsh Government, 2008, http://gov.wales/topics/planning/development-plans/wales-spatial-plan/?lang=en
8. Carr, Lee & Morgan, School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, 2014, “Governing The Metro: Options for The Cardiff Capital Region”, Welsh Government http://gov.wales/docs/det/publications/140522-governing-metro.pdf
9. Cardiff Capital Region Board, 2015, “Powering The Welsh Economy”
10. Welsh Government, November 2015, “Rolling out our Metro”
12. UK Government, March 2016, https://bit.ly/2Uu7lwh
14. “Rolling out our Metro”, p10
15. Westminster Public Accounts Committee, February 2016, https://bit.ly/2uABYkU
16. “Metro impact Study”, p29-31, “Rolling out our Metro”, p12-15,
17. “Rolling out our Metro” p18