Investigative series. Nick Servini goes behind the scenes at Arriva Trains Wales as it struggles to deal with the worst overcrowding on commuter trains for years.
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It's a familiar scene for many commuters.
If there's less than three carriages, you're not getting on.
We're tamping because we have to wait till 6.43 here.
We go behind the scenes as Arriva work every night
Our oldest train is 4.1 million miles ?
And we see them deal with tens of thousands
Cardiff station is not built for managing events of this size,
Wales has #traintrouble - so how did we get here?
And is there light at the end of the tunnel?
All across Wales, people are getting ready for the journey to work.
In Ebbw Vale, Matt and Tara Marshman are grabbing a quick breakfast
before Matt heads off for an hour-long train trip
How have the trains been? Trying to get an earlier one in or
an earlier one home. It's a scene repeated
in households across South Wales. Rhiannon MacElvenny
and her partner Gareth live in Ton Pentre in the Rhondda -
and it's Rhiannon who braves the cold first
to catch her Cardiff train. Every morning rush hour,
14,000 commuters pour Matt Marshman works for a web design
firm and has found the train from his local station to Cardiff
is much better than trying to drive. But while he's a fan,
in recent months he says some of his journeys to and from work
have seen scenes like this. So each day he and thousands
of other commuters head to their station with
a sense of trepidation. Everybody has got the same sort of
thing on their mind, and I going to get a seat? If I was on the longer
line I would feel a little bit more nervous. Hopefully they have got the
Peter working as well! -- heaters. In a different valley,
on a different line at Ton Pentre - Rhiannon has found the right train
to get her to work. The trains you get here at 7:53am,
arriving at 8:45am, so as long as it is on time, 15 minutes is plenty of
time for me to walk over and get to work and start my shift.
But some days, things don't go to plan.
And Rhiannon has arrived late at the call centre where she works.
It is really stressful, straightaway you are worrying about explaining to
work that you're late again, and it is not by two or three minutes, it
is up to half an hour, 45 minutes that I have been late. You are at
the mercy of the train, there is nowhere you can go.
Today Rhiannon's train is on time and while there are plenty
of seats at her stop, they'll soon be filled.
And she says over the last few months she s experienced
overcrowding, delays and even cancelled trains.
Both Rhiannon and Matt have taken to social media
Hundreds of other commuters have vented their frustrations
Those are the stories ? but is it as bad as all that?
I'm joining the morning rush hour at Llandaff to get a taste.
It's one of the last stations on a main valley line,
before you reach the city centre in Cardiff.
And where there have been complaints from passengers that
I have just tried to get on the 7:50am from Llandaff into Cardiff
city centre, it was absolutely rammed. Very few people managed to
get on, and all the conductor could say was, there will be another one
along in ten minutes, and I will try to get on it.
It all 5am, from Llandaff into the city centre of Cardiff.
It was pretty busy, standing room only, what I would have expected. At
the train I got on had four carriages, the one before only had
two carriages. What I have gone through is the experience for
thousands of commuters every day, who rely on the trains to get them
to work on time. So how did we get into this mess?
Under the spotlight are Arriva Trains Wales.
Arriva are part of the largest transport companies in Europe -
Other train operators come into Wales, but since 2003
it's Arriva who run local services and manage the stations.
They're punctual and have improved timetables.
Today's passenger satisfaction survey on issues from tickets
to stations showed their overall figures remained the same.
However, satisfaction with their trains has dropped.
Arriva's overcrowding has prompted inquiries by politicians.
Deeply frustrating for us, but even worse for our customers. Because we
cannot actually address that demands that we have got.
The number of train journeys in Wales has risen from 18 million
So, what do passengers think is the answer?
More carriages on. Putting bigger trains on the tracks.
More carriages, frequent trains, more communication.
Nothing it seems is that straightforward when
I've come to Manchester to meet rail industry expert Tony Miles.
He says Arriva's much discussed zero growth contract did give them
You were locked into the number of trains you have got at the beginning
for the whole length of what, in Wales, is quite a long contract. And
that is the problem. How do you predict what will happen
in 15 years' time and how it right? We didn't predict the number of
people that would use public transport. It was lovely to have
everything nice and secure and signed off, but it gave no
flexibility. That means that in Wales
on the morning commute, more passengers are being
crammed into the same number Back with Matt on his journey ?
he knows the comfort of his trip depends on
how many carriages turn up. Three carriages this morning, which
is good, a lot of happy and smiley faces getting on the train this
morning. If there is less than three carriages, it is a gamble whether
you going to get on not. If you are a little further away from the doors
than someone else and it is only two carriages, you are not getting on.
Of course, overcrowding on the railways is not
A busy station like this in Manchester is a case in point.
According to the latest department for transport figures for 2015,
overcrowding rates for Manchester are higher than in Cardiff.
But the difference is they are decreasing here,
but in Cardiff are on the rise at a faster rate than anywhere else
And that was before Arriva Trains Wales admitted
that overcrowding on its services had reached its highest level
The travelling public have gone home.
But for Simon Hughes and his team of engineers
at the Cardiff train depot, their timebable has only just begun.
-- timetable. This depot in Cardiff get 60-70
trains every night, and we have people who will clean, fuel, repair
and maintain the trains and put them back out to service the next day.
With an average age of 27 years, Wales' fleet of trains are some
Our oldest train is some 4.5 million miles. Sometimes they turn up with
some unknown defect that we have to repair. That takes people away from
doing their day job and onto repairs, and it is more maintenance
burden again. We understand there are customers standing on our
trains, there are failures in the fleet, and we are working really
hard to train to mitigate that. -- to try and mitigate that.
Even with the best efforts, old trains will break down -
This carriage is in darkness, and I don't think they know, because it is
in complete darkness. And if carriages
are out of service - having their wheels fixed
after damage caused by sliding on leaves,
there are few spare trains. And passengers like Matt have
to deal with the consequences. Loads and loads of people with only
two carriages available, we had, people left on the platform. We had
people standing, not a lot of room for anybody at all. It is
unbelievable the amount of people who can voice their opinions, and
you can actually hear the tweets and things going on in the background.
Arriva's contract continues until 2018, and it's often used
to explain why more trains can't be added until then.
But is it really as black and white as that?
This station here in Ebbw Vale did not even exist in 2003 when
company-mac took cover, but in 2008, and new line was introduced, and
thanks to extra money from the Welsh Government, three additional trains
were least, taking passengers from here down to Cardiff, so it seems
that where there is a will, and more money, extra trains, and services
can be run, above and beyond any franchise agreement.
Two years ago, this new train service and carriages
were introduced to run from Holyhead to Manchester
thanks to extra central government money.
But in North Wales there are people as unhappy with their rail service
One is business leader Askar Shebani in Deeside.
He thinks it's holding back the local economy.
It is not really a railway network that our employees can use
businesses can use. They have used it, they were either late to work or
they could not access work, and so they can lose their jobs if they
continue to use that, so they have given up. Whole rail infrastructure
is very poor. Nothing has really improved here at all.
It was once thought that rail travel would be going out of fashion.
Now there's a scramble to try and deal with the growing demand.
Commuter routes from the Valleys are filling up with customers.
Surely all the additional fares from passengers sitting
or standing could help fund extra trains.
The rail industry is full of surprises. For example, it may
surprise you to learn that Arriva Trains's services are some of the
most heavily subsidised in the UK. They receive anything between 110
and ?160 million per year, because while some routes make money through
fares, many of us don't, because they are carrying what the company
likes to cold fresh air. Money could be saved
if Arriva could get more Trains that don't need constant
repair, like these being assembled at one of the
largest train manufacturers - There have been enquires from Wales,
but no trains will be ordered from anywhere until
it's clear which company wins And whether our trains will be
diesel, electric or something else. Passengers in Wales need
a solution before then, so for now it's a case of Arriva
buying some existing Here is another surprise about the
rail industry. Train operating companies like Arriva Trains do not
actually own their own trains, they lease them from just three private
rolling stock companies that control virtually the entire supply for the
country. So why do Arriva Trains not simply release more trains? Well,
here it seems there is a problem. There are no trains to lease, no
diesel locomotives that fit our roots and our fleet and maintenance,
that we can go out there in get. They do not exist.
It's hard for commuters to believe there are no spare trains.
For Rhiannon and her partner, it means the commute home especially
It is two carriages again. And it is full.
We now have to wait until 6:43pm here, the next train, if that is on
time, so we now have been nearly 45 minutes late.
It's true that the three big rolling stock companies don't
Tony Miles says there are smaller companies with rolling stock that
They've been able to make some of those available to railway
They used to use them from North Wales to the north of England.
They're very expensive to use but they're there and they'd happily
hire them if somebody came up with a contract.
And were on charter this Christmas in Newport.
They used to run up and down the Rhymney Valley
So could they run up and down the same routes again?
The Customer Services Director for Arriva is Lynne Milligan.
We have specific requirements for trains here.
Locomotive and coaches are useful on Rhymney Valley here but they're
not best kind of train for this network at all.
But as a short-term measure, in recent months, couldn't you just
We've already put into North Wales a locomotive and coaches
Arriva Train Wales is now supervised by the Welsh Government.
I'm meeting the minister in charge, who is critical of the 2003
contract that predicted zero passenger growth.
So can they help Arriva conjure up the much-needed stock?
But the problem would be even worse if the Welsh Government did exactly
what you said we should have done five years ago and looked
at where additional capacity was needed and as consequence spent
an additional ?25 million a year on the franchise which otherwise
We're not responsible, we're not obligated to spend that money.
We're doing that because the problem been so pressing.
There are days where the Wales rail service is really
Good afternoon and welcome to the Arriva Trains briefing...
Bethan Jelfs has the difficult task tonight
Ticket sales are just over 71,000 so this is going to be our busiest
Major events have caused problems in the past.
But lessons have been learned and Arriva say
These events take a year of planning, so as soon
as we have dates available, we start planning.
Every single train that we have is in operation.
I know people think we've done nothing but, yes, we do hire in.
But not all passengers have had a good journey to town.
And there must have been 1,000 people.
We have had word the game is about to finish so we need to put things
into operation. to manage the wave of passengers
all desperate to get home. 100 Newport over to
platform one, please. Ultimately it's 40,000 people
catching train for an event. We're seeing these figures more
and more regularly so we have to have some crowd-management
measures in place. How long have you had to queue? Not
too long, to be fair. 20 minutes. Cardiff Station wasn't built
to manage events of this size so we use every inch of the station
to move people around. We've heavily invested in having
extra people at events. The weather is not very good so we
have foil blankets and sweets. The interaction with customers is really
key. You've got to take it as it comes. There's lots of people. There
is no flow! It's static! Compared to last year this is far better, people
coming out of town, but something needs to be done, I think. We won!
Who cares? They're probably not enjoying it
greatly but we try and get the message to them that it's
for their own safety. An army of volunteers and trains
begged and borrowed ensure things But could they find carriages
on a more regular basis? I've come to these to these
sidings across the border, where we're told there
are some hidden treasures. I feel like a bit of
a train-spotter, because I'm at Long Marston in the Cotswolds,
where rolling stock I'm actually trying to spot
some Mark 3 carriages. But the reason I'm here
is that we understand that there are around 18 carriages
belonging to Arriva Trains Wales that are now owned by their German
parent company, Deutsche Bahn. So the question is why
are they sitting here getting rusty when they could be helping
passengers deal with overcrowding? I couldn't pick them
out from my location. But we know in the past,
Arriva have refurbished some of these carriages
for routes in Wales. If you travel in the morning
from Chester into Manchester, or Manchester out of Llandudno
in the afternoon, you may travel And they also own the train that
does the one special So they do own some trains
and they've got a few So if Arriva own them and have used
them before, why not now? We have the best of those trains
that have been refurbished and they're running around
at the moment on our network. I'm told there are carriages
there that could be used The trains that are left
in that field are not They're not in a good enough place
to be a quick enough solution, so we're looking at other solutions
that are currently being explored. But Tony Miles believes there could
be life left in those carriages. They could, if they had the money,
get them out of the sidings So when Arriva say there's no
rolling stock out there, It's not strictly true to say
there's no rolling stock out there. It's probably true to say
unless somebody finds money to pay for it,
it can't use the rolling What Arriva wants is more
of the small commuter So why didn't Arriva secure them
when they were available? We've been trying to secure rolling
stock and it hasn't come to us. So we're currently in
discussions with the Welsh The options are complex but they may
well provide a short-term solution. Back on the daily commute,
Rhiannon's homeward Her train was cancelled
and she's stuck at Treforest. I'm now having to wait
for my other half to pick me up Luckily he's got a day off,
otherwise I'd be stuck There's not an actual statement
but probably signalling issues. Over half the problems experienced
by passengers are not because of the trains,
but because of the track. That's Network Rail's
responsibility, as well as cleaning Over Christmas, they caused major
disruption at Cardiff Central. But in his new signalling control
room, Route Manager Director Andy Thomas believes the changes
will deliver benefits. To put this into context, the
signalling system in Cardiff, 300 million, this was the biggest system
commissioned ever for the UK to date. A signalling system is
designed to increase the number of trains that go through Cardiff, from
12 trains per hour to 16, and that resilience is important because it
allows us, when things do go wrong, to recover really, really quickly,
so we minimise the impact on passengers.
But as Cardiff moves into the 21st century,
its main station is decades out of date.
It's just one example of what some say is an under-investment
Unfortunately, the amount being spent on the network
in Wales has only been 1% of the overall provision.
That's despite having 6% of the railway lines.
It's been met with resistance from the UK Government consistently
but we've been equally consistent in our demand for a fair
share of network funding and for devolution of responsibility
so we can invest where it's necessary.
The UK Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, declined
His department highlighted their recent investments
But they say the provision and funding of the rail franchise
in Wales is the responsibility of the Welsh Government.
Back with Matt, and he's just arrived in Cardiff as scheduled,
Most trains run as planned but he says there's enough
uncertainty to cause him some anxiety.
All I want is a consistent service, with consistent carriages,
that does the job, that gets you in and out of Cardiff
Luckily I work for a company that's very understanding that I travel
by train so it can take a bit longer.
But certainly in the past you're supposed to be sat down
in your desk at a specific time, and if your train is a bit
delayed, they encourage you to catch an earlier train.
But on our line, with just one train an hour, it's not really possible.
Arriva Trains Wales have been regarded as one of the UK's
They've hit their performance targets and last year they made
That's double the margin that similar regional franchises
So could they have used more of their profits to help
We operate about 20% more than is contractual to us,
so we've really made a commitment to this business.
We've invested well over ?30 million in a whole series
And this year alone, we're going to invest
a further ?2.5 million, despite fact that in 18 months' time
Arriva Trains Wales is one of the most heavily subsidised
What does the Welsh Government think about their investment levels?
It's galling that we spend ?25 million a year on additional
services above and beyond the franchise agreement.
But isn't the point whether Arriva Trains Wales has
a responsibility to invest more of its profits in the services it
runs because it receives such a generous subsidy
It's fair to say Arriva Trains Wales should invest in a quality service
wherever and whenever a passenger expects.
More than it has done in recent years?
I think it stands to reason they should be investing more
in the service and I constantly raise with Arriva the need
He said it is galling to have to spend given this heavy subsidy that
goes to Arriva. Government subsidy made up 55% of the subsidy and it
now makes up 40% of that income because that subsidy declined every
year. And the nature of the franchise protect the government
from variations in cost. Today's Passenger Satisfaction
figures show Arriva's But happiness with their
trains has declined. Every day, Arriva say
they're doing their best. I'd love to be able to say,
"Here's more trains, give everybody a seat
on those services." But we just don't have it,
so for us, the challenge is how do we make the best
of the service we've got? In 18 months' time,
there will be a new franchise. Whoever's successful,
getting the contract right But how to solve the
current overcrowding? Well, that seems to have descended
into a blame game with the commuters So for now, those like Matt
and Rhiannon are left to adjust their lives
to fit the trains. The boss said, "Look,
you need to adjust your travel plans I now get the 7:23,
so I arrive 8:15. So I'm about 45 minutes
early for work. I'm not sure. Obviously they promise
every year the service will improve and more investment has been done on
the network and things like that. I've been using this service
for six years and haven't At the moment it's
a roll of the dice.
The programme goes behind the scenes at Arriva Trains Wales as it struggles to deal with the worst overcrowding on commuter trains for years. Reporter Nick Servini investigates how we got into this situation, and what can be done to fix it.