There are growing signs that the launch of the new rail franchise in Wales could be heading for significant delays.
During First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday, Carwyn Jones refused to guarantee that the handover from Arriva to the new operator would still take place in October, despite repeated questions from Leader of the Welsh Conservatives – Andrew RT Davies.
Back in February the Cabinet Secretary confirmed that the Franchise would be awarded in May 2018 – which the First Minister appeared to confirm was still on course.
However, when asked about the start of the new franchise (which is currently expected to take place in October) the First Minister refused to make a clear commitment to that rollout date.
The failure to provide firm guarantees over the timeline has led to concerns that the new franchise could face serious delays, and comes just 24 hours after the First Minister sought to downplay passenger expectations over the extent of improvements that the new franchise is likely to deliver.
Speaking outside the chamber, Leader of the Welsh Conservatives – Andrew RT Davies – said:
“The First Minister had several opportunities to confirm that the handover of the rail franchise is still on course to take place in October.
“His failure to do so is significant, and calls into question the current status of the procurement process – just 24 hours after he talked downplayed talk of significant improvements to services in Wales.
“There are growing concerns that the start of the new franchise is facing a significant delay, and Carwyn’s ambiguous response to straightforward questions will hardly have allayed those concerns.
“This is half the world away from the brave new era in rail travel that we were sold when the process was in its infancy.
“Passengers are justifiably expecting the franchise to put right the shortcomings in passenger services that have afflicted rail users in Wales for years, and there will be serious concerns if the handover to a new franchise is delayed and improvements placed on hold.”