Cardiff is a growing city and one, according to its draft Local Development Plan, that needs to accommodate a further 60,000 people in the next 15 years. So, Cardiff, with a transport network designed for a city with less than 300,000 people needs tot develop a network for one with more than 400,000, at the heart of a city region of 1.4 million.

The 2011 report A Metro for Wales’ Capital City Region – Connecting Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys, commissioned by the Cardiff Business Partnership and published by the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA), made the case for a major investment in the transport infrastructure of South East Wales to support long-term economic growth and regeneration.

The Metro concept has, at its core and as a first phase, the electrification of the South Wales valley lines. The concept envisaged that this core network would be extended across the region with heavy rail, tram-train and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to provide a single ticket, turn up and go integrated transport network linking all the major communities and employment/development locations across the region.

Valley Line electrification

A welcome development therefore was last year’s approval by the Department for Transport of the electrification of the GWML to Swansea and the South Wales Valley Lines (VLE).

The VLE project will deliver a huge shot in the arm for the Welsh economy and probably represents the most significant investment in Welsh rail infrastructure since the Severn Tunnel was opened.

The benefits of what is in effect the first phase of a South Wales Metro are clear; an electrified rail network is less costly to operate, more environmentally friendly and the enhanced connectivity between its major towns and cities will help the economy of the whole region.

But this is just the start and a first step in a series of transport infrastructure investments that must be used to help address the economic challenges facing both Cardiff and the wider City Region, as well as providing the catalyst for a range of transport enabled development projects.

The economic challenge

Cardiff has a population of 346,000 (2011 Census data), within a wider Cardiff City Region population of more than 1.4 million. This is expected to grow significantly over the next 25 years. In parallel with this, to 2011 there was an increase of more than 30,000 (17 per cent) in Cardiff’s workplace employment from around 180,000 in 2001 (Stats Wales figures). This is more than 80 per cent of the net total increase for all of SE Wales.

However, Cardiff’s GVA/capita is low at only 91 per cent of the UK average. In fact when compared to other parts of the UK it seems the major economic challenge for SE Wales is as much to do with Cardiff’s underperformance as it is to do with economic inactivity in some Valley communities.

The transport challenge

While the benefits of VLE to the valleys are clear – including faster and more frequent journeys to Cardiff – the benefits for Cardiff residents are more limited. This is especially true for 150,000 people in the east of the city (from Roath to St Mellons) not connected to the regional rail network.

In places like Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT), Caerphilly and The Vale of Glamorgan, which will have the larger part of their populations served by the newly electrified valley rail network, the average number of people per rail station is 11-12,000, the figure in Cardiff is over 17,000.

With VLE, many communities in the valleys will have good access to the centre of Cardiff; future issues for these communities will be frequency of service and capacity rather than connectivity. For Cardiff the primary issue is lack of regional connectivity, let alone frequency and capacity. When one factors in the addition of 40,000 new homes in Cardiff to 2026, as well as a need to provide connectivity to a range of development sites, the challenges of delivering public transport in the city becomes even starker.

So the South Wales Metro must address the challenge of rising population, as well as providing connectivity to/from the valleys.

A Cardiff Crossrail?

One project that could begin to deliver a solution is a ‘Cardiff Crossrail’ to provide metro services across the city. An east to west Crossrail service from St Mellons in the east all the way to J33 Creigiau in the west will use the electrified relief lines east of Cardiff Central, the city line and the reinstatement of the old track from Fairwater to Creigiau. A complementary north to south Crossrail service will operate from J32 on the Coryton line to the bay, interchanging at Callaghan Square with the E-W line.

By adopting European style tram-train technology (rail vehicles that can run on normal electrified heavy rail and on street in ‘tram mode’), the Crossrail project will also enable the long discussed light rail link between the city centre and the bay.

New/enhanced stations at places like Ely Bridge and St Mellons will begin to address the relatively poor rail connectivity in many parts of the city, be used to encourage regeneration/development and facilitate denser mixed-use development. The increased regional connectivity will also enhance the ‘travel to work area’ of key towns in the valleys by giving a large number of people in Cardiff the option of accessing employment in places like Caerphilly and Pontypridd via connections between Crossrail and valley line services at Central, Queen St, Crwys Rd and so on.

Combined with a turn up and go service frequency of four trains per hour using new high quality electric tram-train rolling stock and park & rides on the M4 at J32, J33 and St Mellons, a Cardiff Crossrail will attract many new passengers to the rail network.

Furthermore, by integrating bus services across the city (especially Fairwater, St Mellons and Rumney) on a single ticket, then a truly integrated transport system begins to emerge.

Enabling development and regeneration

The Cardiff Crossrail project also provides opportunities to satisfy Welsh Government planning policy objectives as regards transport-related development, set out in the recently published, Planning Policy Wales, which suggests that local authorities identify the need for additional interchange sites and improvements to existing sites, and encourage higher density, mixed-use development near nodes or corridors well-served by public transport. The Cardiff Crossrail project provides multiple opportunities to deliver on these policy objectives by enabling a range of strategic development projects across Cardiff. We also have to learn from other major transport led regeneration projects. At a recent dinner in Cardiff, Terry Morgan, chair of Crossrail in London, stressed the importance of using transport projects as a means of stimulating economic activity and regeneration and of exploiting the land use impact and value uplift that can result around new transport links and stations.

The right time to propose

The Cardiff Crossrail proposal provides multiple station-focused development and regeneration opportunities across the city, the value of which can be captured to help fund some of the development costs. So, by exploring a range of innovative funding mechanisms alongside more traditional sources, then over a period of perhaps 10 years a Cardiff Crossrail can be delivered.

Perhaps a public/private partnership in the form of a Metro or Cardiff Crossrail development corporation could be tasked with developing and delivering these schemes.

With Cardiff Council exploring its LDP and a Welsh Government Task Force investigating the Metro Concept, this is the right time to be putting forward projects such as a Cardiff Crossrail. However, to make it a reality, the scheme must be identified as one of a small number of strategic, regional Metro projects.

By augmenting the Metro’s first phase, VLE, these projects can form the basis of a strategic Metro Plan for the region that can be delivered in a phased programme from perhaps 2017 – to 2026.

The Metro Consortium is a group of stakeholders lobbying for a step change in the approach to and investment in transport across the Cardiff City Region. Contact Mark Barry at [email protected]