Around 200 new train drivers are wanted in Wales (Image: Birmingham Mail)
The creation of 200 new train driver jobs in Wales is still on track despite the pandemic and the ending of the KeolisAmey rail operating franchise.
Before Christmas the Welsh Government, through its transport body Transport for Wales, enacted the operator of last resort mechanism, which means that from February 7th it will run the Wales and Borders rail franchise directly.
With Covid blowing apart the revenue model for the franchise, and where passenger numbers are currently at around only 10% of pre-pandemic levels, the Welsh Government considered a number of options, including a new management fee contract with no revenue risk for KeolisAmey, before opting to bring it under what will be a new operating subsidy of Transport for Wales.
This will see around 2,400 KeolisAmey staff, many of whom were transferred to the joint venture between French transport firm Keolis and Spanish-owned infrastructure management consultancy Amey when it took on the 15-year franchise in 2018 from ArrivaTrains Wales, moving over to Transport for Wales under the same employment terms.
The current legislation doesn't allow for public ownership of a rail franchise, so at some stage the Welsh Government could be under an obligation to re-tender the franchise.
However, that is highly unlikely in the short to medium term due to passenger number uncertainty. Over the next three years the focus will also be on electrification of the Valley Lines. That will work with be delivered through joint venture company AmeyKeolis Infrastructure.
With a review [Williams] of franchise operations in England, including those that cover Wales outside of the Wales and Borders franchise, the model is expected to move more to a management contract arrangement with franchise operators.
KeolisAmey, with new rolling stock across the Wales & Borders network and the development of the Metro, had committed to creating 200 additional train driver jobs.
Chief executive of Transport for Wales, James Price, said the recruitment and training process would continue, as it formed part of agreed plans it has struck with KeolisAmey.
He added: "We are inheriting the previous plans, because we jointly own the previous plans."
A spokesman for Keolis said: "Some 40 or so have already passed all the required recruitment and training stages and are now in position. Others are currently in training or awaiting a start date whilst others will be introduced once the new stock (and the specific training that comes with them) are closer to introduction."
The starting salary for trainee drivers is £28,000, rising to around £52,000 once fully qualified. However, with things like weekend working, train drivers can earn even more.
Some of the new driver recruits, who will undergo an intensive training programme, will be deployed on the Core Valley Lines into Cardiff, for which new tram-trains are on order as well as trimode trains, which can switch between electric diesel and battery mode, for the Rhymney Line.
The investment is expected to produce an up to 20% rise in passengers over the next six years, assuming a return to pre-Covid passenger activity. Even if home working results in less commuting numbers, there will be opportunities to increase leisure related passenger numbers.
For the new drivers there is a 37 week training programme. The programme looks at three key elements, with the first seeing successful recruits learning about railway safety.