Bidding shortlist due for £5bn South Wales Metro


A shortlist of bidders and next steps of procurement for the South Wales Metro programme will be announced later this month, Infrastructure Intelligence has learnt. The plans for sequential development of mainline rail, light rail and bus rapid transit in South Wales are being procured as part of the wider Wales & Borders rail franchise. Whichever bidder wins the main franchise contract will be expected to act as Transport for Wales' partner for delivering £3-5bn of infrastructure and operational improvements to the rail network, principally in south east Wales.

Writing in Wales Online, Mark Barry, professor of practice in connectivity at Cardiff University, describes the South Wales Metro as bigger than Crossrail in terms of economic importance to the region: "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. This really is a game changer," Barry says.

Phase one of Transport for Wales' South Wales Metro is already under way, involving extension of the Ebbw Vale line and improvements to stations across the network. Phase two is wrapped up in procurement of the Wales & Borders franchise, which is due to run from 2017 to 2023, including improvements to the core Valley Lines and wider South Wales rail network. This is also expected to include light rail services on the main line network to provide a service of up to 24 trains per hour in each direction. Main line services are constrained to a maximum of 16 trains per hour.

Procurement of rail infrastructure improvement and transport services through a turnkey approach is being viewed as a positive step for delivery. Consultant Ben Pritchard of construction business consultancy Invennt said: "It's very interesting that this approach has been taken, with a Train Operating Company being asked to deliver design and construction of infrastructure as well. It creates a single line of responsibility and accountability, and will allow the TOC to work on coming up with the best mix of heavy and light rail and bus transit."

Bidders are understood to include China's MTR Corporation, which runs the Hong Kong Metro, plus Amey in partnership with the French transport operator Keolis, which has stated its belief that light rail is the best solution for rapid transit public transport in South Wales.

A source close to the project said: "The bidders are being required to state how they will develop the Metro, including light rail and bus rapid transit. Exactly how this will be done will be ironed out later with the winning franchisee. A shortlist of bidders and the process for the next step forward is due to be announced later this month."

The Welsh government is also understood to be seeking further assurances from Westminster that funding will still be available for public transport in South Wales after the UK leaves the EU. About £140m of capital investment of the South Wales Metro is expected to come from the EU.

Last week chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed that all funding secured from the EU by regional programmes before Brexit will be guaranteed by government thereafter. "We are seeking assurances that we will still get support from the UK government after then because many of our plans including the Metro and electriofication of the Valleys Line will extend beyond 2020," the spokesman said.