Overcrowding after recent major events in Cardiff was partly caused by Transport for Wales' longest trains being kept in the depot, WalesOnline can reveal.
The nine “Flex” trains have four coaches each and replaced Pacer trains over the last 12 months. Eight of them should be available for services on the Rhymney to Cardiff line every day, but they have been unreliable even with normal numbers of passengers on board.
After most of the autumn international rugby and football matches in Cardiff, the Flex trains would have had the extra weight of a full load of passengers on the long climb up to Caerphilly – but TfW used no Flex trains after most of the matches.
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A Flex train was used after the Wales v Fiji rugby match on November 14 and made it all the way to Rhymney, where it arrived 31 minutes late. It had left Cardiff six minutes late.
Almost all other services on the Rhymney line after the matches were two-coach Sprinter trains.
Sprinters for Rhymney line services were borrowed from other lines to cover for the Flex trains – before and after the matches – which meant services in other areas were shorter than they should have been. After the Wales v Australia rugby match, one passenger shared photos from a packed two-coach Sprinter on the Rhymney line.
Unlike some of the Sprinters, the Flex trains were designed to cope with crowds. They originally operated on busy commuter lines into London. As well as having four coaches, they have two wide doorways near the centre of each carriage, which means that no seats are far from the nearest exit point at stations.
The first five Flex trains were ordered by the Welsh Government for Arriva Trains Wales to introduce in summer 2018. Technical problems kept the trains out of service until November last year, but they remain less reliable than the Pacer trains they replaced.
Asked why the eight Class 769 Flex trains were mostly not used on the recent international match days, a TfW spokesman said: “We currently have four Class 769 trains planned to run in passenger service within our current timetable. The same number are scheduled for service on match and non-match days as we need the capacity that these trains provide on the Rhymney line.
“The number in service on any one day depends on the actual availability that day – if a higher number of units is available on any day then these would be placed into service.
“As it is a new fleet to our network, our fleet team is dealing with some challenging reliability issues which, on occasion, does limit the amount of trains we can have in service at any given time. We are working hard to resolve these reliability challenges.”
On one big-match Saturday, one of the units had developed an engine defect whilst in service, resulting in some post-match shorter trains.
The trains were becoming more reliable because an issue related to fans which cool the diesel engines had largely been rectified, he said.
Porterbrook, the trains’ owner, compensated TfW for the trains’ delayed entry into service by providing nine additional one-coach Sprinters. However, TfW declined to say whether or not it has received any further compensation from Porterbrook for the on-going reliability problems.
Could the Flex trains be deployed on lines which are not so steeply graded after future events, such as Six Nations rugby, with Porterbrook covering the costs of obtaining route clearance for them?
The spokesman replied: “Currently the Class 769s are only gauge-cleared to run between Rhymney and Penarth. Our longer term strategic fleet plan is centred around the introduction of our brand new CAF and Stadler fleet and therefore rolling out the Class 769s onto other routes that will be serviced by our brand new fleet of trains would not be viable due to the balance of the fleet mix and the timescales and costs associated with extending them onto other lines.”
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