Arriva Trains Wales carriages which run through North Wales and Chester are so old it is 'amazing they still work', a leading transport expert has said.

Professor Stuart Cole said the company's engineers “must be amazing” to keep the carriages running regularly on the line between Holyhead and Crewe.

Fears have already been raised that a bid to secure investment for electrifying the North Wales Main Line could fail, unless passenger numbers are significantly improved.

Prof Cole said: “I am amazed any of those trains work.

“The Arriva engineers must be amazing to keep them going.

“They are perfectly safe, otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed on the railway. But the whole Wales network needs new trains. That is the reality of the network we have got.”

Network Rail said the investment of almost £800m needed to improve the line in 2024 would represent “poor value” for money in their vision for future works.

Professor Cole, of the Wales Transport Research Centre, said the route needed significant improvement.

He said the service will need faster journey times, new electric trains, direct routes to Liverpool and park and rides if commuters are to be driven out of their cars and onto the rails.

The average age of the Arriva fleet is 25 years old, and services are only able to reach top speeds of 100mph, making them incompatible with high speed lines and electrification.

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Prof Cole said that, despite passenger numbers more than doubling in the last 10 years, passengers remain on the “very old trains” due to a no growth deal in the current franchise.

He said passengers sometimes found themselves on trains designed for local trips for hours on end, with some being former buses bought cheaply and placed on the tracks.

Chester Railway Station
Chester Railway Station

“I would argue that, to get a system that would really pack in the passengers, we would really need to electrify the whole of the North Wales Main Line,” he said.

“If we can afford electrification, let’s do it. Let’s see what benefits there are.

“New trains will always have an impact on people and get more people off the road.

“We have got problems on the A55. It measured up to what was required of it when it was built and it still does most of the time, but there are problems at the Chester end because of the commute in the morning.

“If we could just get 10% of people to transfer to the train, the problems would be eliminated in most situations.

“It doesn’t take a lot of people to make a difference.

“The difficulty is then that some people will think that there aren’t any traffic jams any more and will switch back, so we have to keep them on the rail.”

Prof Cole said new rolling stock had to be included in the next Wales and Border Franchise agreement when the current contract runs out in 2018.

He said the Welsh Government could buy new carriages and lease them as part of the next deal, but they needed to be electric so they could travel all the way to Liverpool.

Arriva Trains Wales response

An Arriva Trains Wales spokesperson said: “Our fleet of trains has been allocated to us as part of the franchise and we have a dedicated fleet engineering team who work hard day and night to keep our fleet of trains well maintained.

“Most of our fleet that run on the North Wales section of our network are either 175s or 158s which are amongst the newest trains in our fleet (our fleet of 158s have been completely refurbished).

“We do have three 150 trains that run on the Wrexham/Bidston line and the Conwy Valley that are older, but they have been recently completely refurbished too.”

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