Railway proposals in Cardiff Airport’s new Master Plan

Yesterday Cardiff Airport launched its draft Master Plan, through to 2030.

The proposed rail frequency enhancements on the Vale line, as promised by the Keolis-Amey consortium for the line by 2023, will directly help bring passengers to the Airport. The improvements will also help the local residents of Rhoose, St Athan and Llantwit and begin to make it possible to commute reliably to Cardiff or Bridgend. The promise is for half hourly services on the Vale of Glamorgan line in each direction, meaning four trains an hour arriving at Rhoose and able to serve the Airport. Currently these run only hourly. There is also discussion of a bus service to the Airport from Barry train station.

However, over and above these rail access provisions, we would like to draw your attention to the continuing inclusion within the Airport master plan of a rail spur route, through Porthkerry Park, which is being ‘safeguarded’ with a view to the future needs of the airport.

You can read the recommendations of the master plan here.

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What we can learn from Prof Stuart Cole’s review of the Airport Express bus

After a lack of take-up of the Airport Express bus service the Welsh Government commissioned Prof Stuart Cole to undertake a review, the results of which have recently been released:

The Cardiff airport shuttle service is sustainable, as long as air passenger numbers increase as forecast, a report for Welsh ministers has concluded.

Prof Stuart Cole from the University of South Wales was asked to review the bus service that was introduced in April.

He says eight passengers per journey are needed to make a profit, but the average is currently less than four.

Welsh ministers said they were considering the report while the Tories said it raised “serious questions”.

Funded by the Welsh government at a cost of £242,691 so far, the bus runs every 20 minutes from the airport at Rhoose, in the Vale of Glamorgan, to the centre of Cardiff.

The service has very quickly established a high profile and strong identity”

It also suggests cutting the number of journeys at the start and end of the day when demand is lower. […]

Cardiff Airport shuttle bus averages four passengers a journey 6th Feb 2014
Airport shuttle sustainable if air passengers increase, review concludes 7th Feb 2014

This new report from Prof Stuart Cole finds that not many people choose public transport as their method to go to the Airport. This vindicates what we have always said at the Stop the Spur – Protect The Vale Line campaign: demand for public transport to the Airport is low.

“While a bus service is expensive, it’s a lot less expensive than building a new piece of railway. Welsh Government is quite right to question the cost effectiveness of even this modest bus service but it certainly isn’t worth spending £45 million (at today’s prices) on a direct rail link – with all of the disruption and damage that the work would entail – to the Airport. Why? There just wouldn’t be the passenger demand for it.”

Regular readers of this blog will remember this infographic produced in March 2012 and no less useful now:

The £15m in our round logo is the rough cost of only one mile of flat simple track. However the true cost is nearer £45m, made up of:

  • 1.6 miles of track (£24m for a start!),
  • a new junction and new signalling next to the viaduct,
  • a 900-metre cutting through one hillside,
  • earth works and dam to across Whitelands Brook,
  • a further 400m cutting and earthworks, leading to
  • two tunnels- one under the Port Road and one under the Airport Access Road, AND
  • a completely new station plus signalling at the Airport.

If we could be so bold as to add an addendum to Prof Stuart Cole’s analysis it would contain the following:

  1. RECOMMENDATION: Protect the Vale line. Keep the services for local residents. Increase the frequency of services to help commuters choose rail instead road.
  2. RECOMMENDATION: Publicise the bus service that meets every train and goes to the Airport. Those asking for a a rail connection are ignoring the fact that we already have one. The rail connection already exists! Rhoose Cardiff International Airport is the name of the station and the cost of the short trip is £1 (one pound).

“Airport City” and the missing “Masterplan”: Questions abound for Rhoose residents…

As the Vale of Glamorgan Local Development Plan (LDP) consultation (deadline 20th December) continues, serious implications for residents of Rhoose remain hidden within a “Masterplan” that no one has seen or is able to comment on.

The “Masterplan”, which the Vale council LDP refers to as a Welsh Government document, although the First Minister insists is a Cardiff Airport Board document, contains a reference to an “Airport City”. On page 70, paragraph 6.62 of the LDP, the document says:

airport city reference in LDP

This reference to the Airport City Masterplan can be found in the Local Development Plan on pages 70 – 71

The Masterplan, which we are told will contain details of proposals for this Airport City, including the following elements;

  • “Safeguarding the route” of the railway Spur from the Vale line to the airport.
  • An ‘energy centre’, described as a combined heat and power plant.
  • Employment land to the south of Port Road, which currently comprises the best agricultural land on Model Farm, which Gethin and Rhys Jenkins‘ family has been farming for four generations.
  • An extension to Porthkerry Country Park, by land being transferred from Legal and General, the Landowners (who will see an huge increase in the overall value of their land from its reclassification from Agricultural to Employment land) to the Vale of Glamorgan Council.

The inclusion of this Masterplan within the LDP leaves many questions for us residents of the local area, which you might want to ask local councillors and planners:

  1. Why are the Council, who received our petition opposing the rail spur during the last LDP, still insisting on having this proposal in the new LDP?
  2. How can the council justify tucking way in a reference on page 71 “safeguarding the route of the rail spur”, and then only in a reference to a “Masterplan” that no one has seen nor can comment on?
  3. Why does the Council feel that it needs to allocate more land to the employment zone for this “Airport City” south of Port Road, when there is plenty of employment land already allocated north of the road which hasn’t yet been developed, despite being available for the last 15 years?
  4. How can the council justify rendering Model Farm economically unviable, thereby ending the farm that four generations of tenant farmers have been looking after and from which they have produced high quality food for Wales? Especially while employment land north of Port Road remains undeveloped and unused?
  5. How much disruption will be caused to local residents using Port Road to commute to Barry and Cardiff, in building this power plant and the development (if it ever happens) of the employment land south of the road, and what will happen to the iconic view across the fields to the viaduct, the Bristol channel and beyond from the road?
  6. While the extension to Porthkerry Country park seems positive for the Vale, has the Council looked fully into the financial implications of managing all this extra land? At present, the land is tended by the farmers at Model farm, at no cost to the taxpayer.And perhaps most urgently…
  7. Who is responsible for the creation of this “Masterplan”? When will it be published? Will it be open to public consultation?

Confusion about who is writing the Masterplan

The Vale of Glamorgan Council Local Development plan states clearly that the “Masterplan” is being prepared by the Welsh Government on page 70:


But Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales, has said equally clearly in the Senedd that it is NOT a Welsh Government document, but the Cardiff Airport Board are preparing it:

What questions do you want answered about these plans? If you’re a resident of Rhoose, how do you feel about these plans for your local area being developed without consultation with the public? Do you feel that the “Spur” idea is still a threat to our rail services on the Vale line?

Examining the Airport Express bus and public transport in the Vale of Glamorgan

South Wales Echo have raised the issue of lack of demand for the new Airport Express bus service running from Cardiff to Cardiff Airport.

[…]The Echo rode the Airport Express – which runs every 20 minutes, seven days a week between 5am and 11.40pm – several times last week, right during the peak holiday season.

On half of the journeys we made the bus was empty, while on the other occasions our reporter travelled with just one or two passengers.

In total, out of our six journeys, only four people used the service. This equates to an average of 0.66 passengers per journey. […]

The bus service is less than a fortnight old. As local Assembly Member Eluned Parrott points out in the South Wales Echo piece, it was speedily introduced and has not been widely promoted as yet. Word is only just starting to get out about its existence. Holidaymakers using the Airport this month will have already made their local transport choices and plans. It’s therefore possibly a little premature to be assessing the long-term value of the bus to holidaymakers.

But while we at the campaign to Stop The Spur and Protect The Vale Line wish the Airport Express bus all the very best, this lack of demand is not a shock. The tough reality is that the Airport itself doesn’t generate the passenger numbers to merit any form of local public transport support. Research has shown that it is only new routes and services that are likely to revive the Airport.

In terms of usage, this bus is still a better bet than the rail spur – as proposed in the defunct LDP from the previous council administration. Imagine the gargantuan cost that that would have involved for these low levels of demand, levels which we predicted on this website in March 2012.

What does need support and resource – and we’ve been saying this for a while – are the local commuter services, which include buses and of course the Vale of Glamorgan line services. The commuter trains are already very full.

So when will the Vale line begin to run half-hourly services, we wonder?

All aboard the Cardiff Airport express bus – from today

Earlier this year various people, most notably Assembly Member Eluned Parrott, began calling again for an express bus service between Cardiff city centre and Cardiff Airport.

Well the brand new Cardiff Airport express bus launches today, 1st August 2013. Here’s the official press release from earlier this week. Kudos to Edwina Hart, Transport Minister at the Welsh Government, for sanctioning this and enabling it to happen – along with the councils of Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff.

According to the press release there is a ’20-minute service frequency, seven days a week, from early morning to late at night’. In addition we get ‘coach-style leather seating, climate control, WiFi, extra luggage space and improved on-board information’.

Similar airport express bus services such as those of Edinburgh and Bristol have been very successful.

At the Stop The Spur campaign we are particularly happy that this decision has also preserved Vale of Glamorgan railway line services for commuters.

August launch for express bus service from Cardiff to the Airport

Some good news from WalesOnline yesterday:

An express bus service running every 20 minutes almost round the clock between the city centre and Cardiff Airport is to launch next month, under new plans.

The Vale of Glamorgan council is inviting bus operators to bid to run the service, which comes four months after the Welsh Government’s £52m takeover of the Rhoose terminal.

It will be scheduled to run approximately every 20 minutes between 4am and midnight, 363 days a year, according to the contract notice.

The notice does not provide details on the exact route or the location of stops, but describes it as a “high profile, quality, limited stop, express local bus service”. […]

Read the story in full.

After some murmurings it appears this express bus is now confirmed. This looks like a sustainable good transport option which should make local travel more convenient for airport users.

Importantly for people who live in the Vale of Glamorgan it would also have no impact on Vale railway line services, which are already squeezed.

Cardiff Airport: Carwyn Jones to encourage new routes with operators?

This is from Sunday’s news:

The first minister has confirmed he has met commercial operators with an interest in buying a stake in the struggling Cardiff airport.

Carwyn Jones said a “medium to long term” strategy has been discussed with potential investors.

The Welsh government stepped in and bought the airport in March after passenger numbers slumped.

But Mr Jones told The Wales Report with Huw Edwards they wanted someone to share the running of the airport.

He said: “What we are looking at is for a commercial operator to come in to run the airport, perhaps come into partnership with us – maybe buy half of the airport if I can put it so crudely – so the money comes back quickly.

“There’s interest out there – I have met with large operators who have that interest.” […]

You can watch the interview with the First Minister at the beginning of The Wales Report on iPlayer.

Good relationships with operators are vital to the success of Cardiff Airport. The figures will only have a chance of dramatically picking up if there are a range of better routes on offer. Routes, routes, routes! To be clear, local fiddling with improvements to transport links will not boost the demand. We’ve stated this before on this website. Here’s a video clip explaining why:

And here’s a transcript of the video.

Further discussions about Cardiff Airport

A big meeting organised by Western Gateway was held on Monday 20th May 2013, with the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, in attendance. We are still going over our notes on the meeting and will report on mentions and consequences for the railway spur or the Vale line soon. In the meantime, here are a couple of links to media reports on the meeting:

The BBC reports on proposals being put forward by Western Gateway to see Cardiff Airport as a long haul hub airport.

Wales Online also reports on claims for Cardiff Airport’s long haul potential and focuses on pressure to reduce Air Passenger Duty.

Cardiff airport isn’t the only air transport solution that has been discussed recently. The Institute of Welsh Affairs has released a report focussing on the potential for a Severnside airport to eventually replace both Cardiff and Bristol airport.

Cardiff Airport want your feedback

Cardiff Airport are asking for your opinions on how they could improve their service. Do take a moment to give them some feedback.

Don’t forget to mention particular air routes that you would like to see added – in an ideal world. The outcome depends not only on the airport but operators’ willingness to work with them. The airport people will at least read your comment, so you just never know!

(We’re sharing this because it’s of interest to supporters of the Stop The Spur campaign. Obviously if you have a message for the airport then please send it directly.)



The idea of an express bus service to Cardiff Airport

There has been plenty of coverage about the Welsh Government’s acquisition of Cardiff Airport. Earlier this week we saw how the number of passengers has just dipped below one million per year.

Further down that BBC story there’s an interesting quotation from Eluned Parrott who is the local Liberal Democrat Assembly Member:

[…] Welsh Liberal Democrat business spokeswoman Eluned Parrott had hoped Mrs Hart would bring forward plans for an express bus service from central Cardiff to the airport.

“This bus link is vital,” she said.

“A direct high quality bus service from Swansea to Bristol Airport via Cardiff will shortly be launched without any taxpayer assistance.

“The Welsh government really does need to start their service, which was first announced almost four years ago, as soon as possible.” […]

This express bus seems like a very good idea to us at the Stop The Spur campaign. Whereas people often like to take a car or at least get a car lift to ease transport of luggage, an express bus could be a good value method of increasing local travel options. It comes without the serious problems associated with a rail spur (burden on the rail line, significant damage to the local environment and huge financial costs – to name three!).

Here’s another thing that would improve local transport options. We in the Vale of Glamorgan are all looking forward to the twice hourly rail service that will run on the Vale line, which is scheduled to begin in 2014. It will mean you can get to the Rhoose Cardiff International Airport station by train and then jump on the excellent shuttle bus between the station and the airport. People tend to forget about the shuttle bus – it’s a reason why a rail spur as suggested in the old Local Development Plan is just not needed.

We offer these comments advisedly though. A new express bus service running from Cardiff centre, while welcome, would not be enough to revive the airport. As the airport management and others have said repeatedly, there is a relative shortage of air routes and flights. Only when the airport manages to attract more operators and extend the choice available will we start to see a real change in fortunes.

Transport to and from the airport, while relevant to the discussion, is less of an issue. As we’ve highlighted before, when surveyed only 3% of customers stated that accessibility of the airport was a reason not to choose Cardiff Airport compared to 57% citing choice of destinations or choice of flights as the reasons for picking another airport. It makes complete sense when you think about it. Here’s the pie chart from that market research which we reproduced last year:

By the way there’s a fuller comment from Parrott about the express bus proposal, on her website. It’s a good time for her to be reminding the Welsh Government of this proposal – and it would be superb to see the express bus happen.