Transport in Wales

Transport in Wales is heavily influenced by the country's geography . Wales is predominantly hilly or mountainous, and the main settlements lie on the coasts of North and South Wales, while Mid Wales is lightly populated. The main transport corridors are east-west routes, many continuing eastwards into England.[1]


Wales' railway network developed in conjunction with that of the rest of the United Kingdom during the nineteenth century. The North Wales Coast Line and South Wales Main Line sought to profit from traffic between London and Ireland. Numerous railways were built to export coal and iron from South Wales and slate from North Wales. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, tourism was booming and railways served resorts such as Llandudno, Barry Island and locations along the Cambrian Coast Line.

The network was rationalised during the twentieth century (particularly by the Beeching axe), with mainly east-west routes retained. As a result, the rail network within Wales is no longer contiguous. Devolution led to the formation of a single franchise for Wales in 2003. This franchise, which includes some railway lines in England for completeness, is currently operated by Arriva Trains Wales. As rail usage has grown during the past decades, several freight lines have seen rail services reintroduced, including the Cardiff City Line, the Vale of Glamorgan Line, and the Ebbw Valley Railway. As of 2008, there are 923 miles of mainline railways in Wales.[2]

Arriva Trains Wales operate all mainline services wholly within Wales. These range from rural lines such as the Welsh Marches Line to the Cardiff commuter lines, and long distance routes between North and South Wales, via Chester, Wrexham and Shrewsbury. They also operate services from Wales to Manchester, Crewe, Birmingham, and Gloucester. Services to London are operated by First Great Western (from South Wales) and Virgin Trains (from North Wales). First Great Western also operate services from Cardiff to Portsmouth via Bristol, Bath and Southampton, and CrossCountry (part of Deutsche Bahn AG) operate services from Cardiff to Nottingham.

The bulk of rail transport in Wales today is concentrated in the south with Cardiff Central, Cardiff Queen Street, Newport, Swansea and Bridgend being the busiest stations.[3] Most passengers travel on east-west routes.[1] In 2005/06, there were approximately 20.1 million rail passenger journeys beginning or ending in Wales, including 13 million starting and ending in Wales. Cardiff was the destination for almost 40 per cent of these journeys.[1] In the north, the bulk of rail travel is concentrated around Wrexham General, Wrexham Central and Llandudno Junction to Chester section.

Railway Electrification

The main South Wales Main Line and the central Valley Lines are being electrified. [4]

Urban rail

The only form of commuter rail system in Wales is the Valley Lines network serving Cardiff and the South Wales valleys, serving 20 stations in Cardiff and 61 stations in the surrounding area. Train frequency at the core of the network is up to every 5 minutes.[5]

Station buildings in Caerleon awaiting platform rebuilding and station re-opening on the Welsh Marches Line.
Arriva Trains Wales at the potential re-opened station of Pontrilas, also on the Welsh Marches Line.


The only surviving tram service within Wales is the Great Orme Tramway, a cable hauled tramway in Llandudno which survives as a tourist attraction.

Cardiff, Swansea and Newport had extensive tram systems until the mid 20th century. Plans were mooted for a modern tram system to serve Cardiff's urban areas in late 1990s but these were shelved due to the costs of building and maintaining such a system.[6][7]

The world's first passenger tram service was the Mumbles Railway in Swansea, initially horse-drawn but later operated by steam and electric trams.[8]

The Llandudno and Colwyn Bay tramway, demolished in 1956, has a preservation society which has restored some original carriages.[9]

Heritage railways

Wales has a large number of heritage railways. Some of these were former industrial narrow gauge railways, such as the Corris Railway. Others were formed from portions disused standard gauge railways, either kept as standard gauge (e.g. Barry Tourist Railway) or converted to narrow gauge (e.g. Brecon Mountain Railway). Some of the narrow gauge heritage railways are marketed as the Great Little Trains of Wales[10]

Notable heritage railways include:


The trunk road network carries around one third of road traffic in Wales.[1] Around 80 per cent of traffic on Welsh roads is cars, taxis, and minibuses, mainly on east-west routes in north and south Wales.[1]

South Wales

Wales has 83 miles (133 kilometres) of motorways, all of which are in the south. The major artery is the M4, which enters Wales via the Second Severn Crossing and terminates at Pont Abraham in Carmarthenshire. The M4 in South Wales has 27 junctions and is an important route between the main urban areas in the region. It links Llanelli, Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot, Bridgend, Cardiff and Newport directly to London and the rest of Southern England and indirectly to the Midlands via the A449, A40 and M50.

Following construction of the new bridge the original Severn Bridge, which crosses the river further upstream at Chepstow, was re-numbered the M48 motorway. Via either motorway is necessary to pay a toll to cross the bridge on the M4 or M48 westbound, but not eastbound. The A48(M) is a small spur from the M4 from West Newport to East Cardiff.

The second major road is the A470 dual carriageway that connects Cardiff with the South Wales Valleys towns. It suffers from severe congestion especially during peak hours due to significant in-commuting to the Cardiff area.

The A465 "Heads of the Valleys" road, currently being upgraded to dual carriageway, provides a link between the M4 near Neath across the Heads of the Valleys to Abergavenny, Monmouth and England's West Midlands via the A40 and M50.

North Wales

The main arteries for North Wales are A494, running from Queensferry (near the English border) to Dolgellau. The road begins from the M56 motorway, connecting North Wales with Chester and Manchester Airport, both in England. More importantly the A55, which runs from Holyhead (for ferry connections to Ireland), Conwy, Llandudno Junction and Rhyl to a junction with the M53 motorway near Chester.

One of the oldest roads the A5 runs from the port of Holyhead south east to Bangor then down through Snowdonia to Betws-y-Coed, Corwen, Llangollen and over the English border south of Chirk. This route has served as the main passage for London-Dublin traffic for many years although its usage has been superseded by the A55 coast road. It's now more famed as a scenic route and notorious for many Bank Holiday traffic jams.


Two routes serve as the main North-South links. The A483 begins near Swansea and takes a north-easterly route to Ammanford, Llandeilo, Llandovery, Llanwrtyd Wells, Builth Wells, Llandrindod Wells, Newtown, Welshpool, Oswestry and Wrexham, finally ending at Chester.

The A470 begins in Cardiff Bay and passes through Cardiff following a north-north western route on to Pontypridd, Abercynon, Merthyr Tydfil, Brecon, Builth Wells, Rhayader, Llangurig, Llanidloes, Llandinam, Commins Coch, Mallwyd, Trawsfynydd, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Dolwyddelan, Betws-y-Coed and terminates at Llandudno. It is a dual carriageway between Cardiff and Merthyr (where it meets the Heads of the Valleys Road, the A465), and the section of this route into Cardiff is heavily used.

Bus and coach network

Articulated bus in Cardiff
Optare Tempo in Aberystwyth, on TrawsCambria interurban service X40

Bus services are predominantly provided by the council owned Cardiff Bus and Newport Transport in the respective cities. Private sector operators in Wales include:

In North Wales, National Express offers services from major towns to Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Newcastle upon Tyne, Leeds and Bradford.

In South Wales, National Express provides direct services from major towns and cities to Bristol, London Gatwick, London Heathrow and London Victoria. Services also operate from Cardiff and Newport to Birmingham, Nottingham, Bradford, Sheffield and Hull. Megabus operates services from Cardiff to Bristol, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle upon Tyne.

TrawsCambria is sponsored by the Welsh Assembly Government and offers 6 intra-Wales routes which are:[14]

Traffic Pollution

A number of places in Wales suffer from Air Pollution.[15]


Wales has two airports offering scheduled services, Cardiff and Anglesey, with the latter offering only domestic services to Cardiff.

In South Wales the air travel market is estimated to be in the region of 3.5 million passengers, half of which are served by Cardiff Airport while the remainder travels mainly to Heathrow, Bristol and Gatwick.[1] Over three-quarters of passengers passing through Cardiff International Airport are from international flights, and the remainder are domestic passengers mainly travelling between Cardiff and Belfast, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Glasgow or Jersey. The North Wales air passenger market is small and Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham airports provide the main access.[1]

An air service with a flight time of around one hour between Cardiff Airport and Anglesey Airport started in May 2007, with two return flights a day, and attracted 40,000 passengers over the first 2½ years. It was originally run by Highland Airways but, after that company's closure, was taken over on a temporary basis by Isle of Man-based company Manx2 (now Citywing) in 2010.[16]

Cardiff International Airport is the sole airport in Wales for air freight, and is ranked 19th in the UK in terms of freight movement.[1] However, Airbus flies out some of the aircraft wings produced in its Broughton plant.[1]


Milford Haven is the fourth largest port in the UK in terms of tonnage and the busiest for oil products.[1] Newport is the busiest UK port for iron and steel and Port Talbot is the third busiest for ores.[1] In 2005, the freight tonnage share of Welsh ports was:[1]


Ulysses plying from Holyhead to Dublin Port. The largest ferry on the Irish Sea.

Welsh ports also provide passenger and freight ferry services. In 2005, 3.2 million sea passengers travelled to and from Ireland. Holyhead, the third largest passenger ferry port in the UK, handled over 2.3 million passengers; Fishguard and Milford Haven (Pembroke Dock) handled over 800,000 passengers a year.[1]

The Cardiff Waterbus runs along the River Taff in Cardiff connecting the city centre with Cardiff Bay and Penarth.


Arriva Trains Wales, Iarnród Éireann, as well as Irish Ferries and Stena Line promotes SailRail[17]

From South Wales using West Wales Lines to Fishguard Harbour and on Stena Line to Rosslare Europort service which links with the Iarnród Éireann trains to Dublin Connolly on the Dublin–Rosslare railway line. Whilst from North Wales the North Wales Coast Main Line connects Holyhead with a choice of ferries, either Stena Line or Irish Ferries to Dublin Port, for connecting buses to Dublin Connolly railway station.

See also


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