The Welsh Government expects to implement a 13-mile ‘rapid transit link’ by 2020, but is undecided on the transport mode. Rhodri Clark reports

 

Cardiff’s City Line provides a right of way through the inner suburb of Canton but its use for light rail might require tram-train technology, since the City Line is earmarked for Valley Lines frequency increases

 

The Welsh Government aims to create a 13-mile “rapid transit link” by 2020, although it has not yet decided what mode of transport to use.

The route between Cardiff and Pontyclun would serve major housing developments north-west of Cardiff and, with an estimated cost of £150m to £250m, is by far the largest element of Cardiff council’s draft Local Transport Plan. Councillors have approved the draft LTP, which will soon go to the Welsh Government for approval.

The LTP also includes a smaller scheme to convert the short branch from Cardiff Queen Street station to Cardiff Bay from heavy rail to “tram” operation, as well as double tracking and creating a spur to serve Cardiff Central station. The timescale for both schemes is given as 2019-20.

Cardiff council is unable to answer press questions about the Pontyclun rapid transit link because this is a government scheme. Last week, a Welsh Government spokesman said: “We’re still investigating what mode of transport it will be.”

The price tag indicates that the project will involve a new right of way, rather than bus lanes on existing roads. The LTP lists Network Rail as one of the funding bodies.

Councillor Graham Hinchey, who sits on Cardiff council’s cabinet, said the plan was to use a disused railway (mostly a vacant trackbed) from the suburbs in the Fairwater area to Llantrisant and Pontyclun. “My personal preference would see Cardiff develop a metro-based system. The new technology runs on rail and road, very similar to the one I saw in Nottingham.”

The City Line, from Cardiff Central to Radyr, provides a rail corridor through the inner suburbs to Fairwater for future light rail use. However, it is central to planned increases in the frequency of heavy rail services between Pontypridd and Cardiff, and this could preclude devoting one bi-directional track each to heavy and light rail, as on Nottingham Express Transit’s Hucknall line. The tram-train alternative, where heavy and light rail vehicles share the same tracks, would depend on UK safety approval following the South Yorkshire pilot. The pilot’s commencement, due in spring 2016, has been postponed indefinitely.

Opposition councillors criticised Cardiff’s rapid transit proposal last winter, claiming that houses would be demolished in Fairwater and that Bus Rapid Transit would displace on-street parking. A council spokesman said at the time that work had indicated that “tram-train services using the existing and disused rail alignments in the north-west corridor would be preferable to BRT, in part due to the potential local impacts particularly through Canton.”

The rapid transit route’s western end is in the adjoining county, Rhondda Cynon Taf. However, the LTP for that area makes no reference to rapid transit on the disused railway. Instead, it reiterates a long-standing heavy rail proposal to reopen the railway from its junction with the main line at Pontyclun as far as Beddau, with four new stations including Llantrisant.

Councils in South-east Wales are producing separate Local Transport Plans following the unexpected decision by Welsh transport minister Edwina Hart to abolish Wales’ regional transport consortia last April.

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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