Cardiff: Transport Futurology

Posted by in Design, Transport

*This piece was originally written in July 2014 whilst still in China. In 2018 I returned to Cardiff and was able to shoot new imagery of the revamped stations at Queen Street and Central. The words remain relevant as the South Wales metro region is set to be revitalised by the newly formed Transport for Wales who replace Arriva Trains Wales.


In the wake of the Manic Street Preachers release Futurology I decided to add my comments on the upcoming plans for ‘our’ Cardiff (if you don’t know – the capital city of Wales). Sometimes known locally as Kairdiff or the ‘diff, it’s a love affair that smoulders via my extended absence.

Cardiff Library and right the new Queen Street and its ticket barriers.

In recent years we have seen the behemoth St David’s 2 shopping mall and equally impressive library opened. The Hayes upgraded with new paving and sky spearing sculpture ‘Alliance’ by French artist Jean-Bernard Metais.

Some time ago we were told that both the cities major train stations Queen Street and Cardiff Central were also to be revamped. All good so far. However around the same time, the bus station was lost, a supposedly temporary measure that persists.

Cardiff Central interior minus lift and the new rear facade.


Design plans were put forth to modernise our centrepiece station which look great but wait. Isn’t Cardiff Central a listed building? Or does this no longer matter? At one point the powers that be were saying how complicated all the legal shenanigans were just for the application of an elevator or lift to put it in UK terminology.

Now, the glass one (although necessary) completely shatters the overall feel of the 1920’s Art Deco interior. So have the aforementioned plans for Central been shelved or just drastically altered?

The initial idea was to incorporate slate into the design. This revision sees the front façade entombed in glass, almost museum like, with an upper level featuring retail outlets and eateries not dissimilar to London’s Liverpool Street.

Certainly, the 80 year old station could benefit from some development. New toilets on both ground and platform level for starters. The stairs and destination tiles are wonderfully evocative of a bygone era – the great age of train travel, however much like Bristol’s Temple Meads, the station sees a daily influx of people for which its original design can barely cope. So do escalators and Yo Sushi beckon? Maybe.

Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof.


Or perhaps there is another radical solution. As with the airport, ‘they’ would be better off choosing a better location and building a new Cardiff Central from scratch leaving the existing one as a satellite station (a bit like Waterloo and Waterloo east operate in London).

Further more, how about taking out both Queen Street and Central stations and having a Berlin style Hauptbahnof (central station) on the axis of the London-Swansea (east-west line) and the Valleys to the Bay (north-south) line? Not entirely sure it’s feasible but it would be something to behold. I should add my above photos don’t illustrate that as the station was not officially open at that time (2006).

As for the ongoing saga of the bus station, my thoughts are that retaining the train-bus transport hub in front of the station are vital instead of the hotchpotch of buildings earmarked by developers. This is the most worrying and potentially most divisive of all decisions that will be made.

So far Cardiff has strode with confidence into the early part of this millennium. Hopefully it will continue to function as a capital to be proud of including a revised transport hub before the planners and developers irreversibly destroy it for generations to come.

And if you think that’s melodramatic, imagine what the bay might have looked like had the Millennium Centre been built where the St David’s Hotel is with the poem reflecting in the water at night. But the whole project was developed too fast without much thought or so it seems.

Stations in transition.


Unfortunately the deal went through and the BBC building got built. In my opinion all that needed to happen was a revamp of the existing bus station but things change and to come full circle I’m a little sad the green of Arriva Trains Wales will be replaced by more red, a colour synonymous with Wales.

I liked the Arriva livery because it moved away from dragons and red and showed Wales could, at last, do things differently. The new livery while smart places us back in familiar terrain in terms of colour. What is new is there won’t be individual branding of an operator but of the governmental TfW but does this mean Cardiff Central will lose the deep green of GWR?

Red is the colour.


I am not sure black is a good idea for the front of a train anymore than red is for signage (hello Cardiff Airport). More so the amount it will cost to repaint all the Arriva stations and replace the signage where a bit of planning and thinking ahead could have prevented this; the stations should never have been branded in the first place!

In addition to all that, I am also sad yet excited to see the retirement of the rolling stock, especially those on the city line, and the introduction of the new trains whenever they are rolled out.

Going back to the city line for a moment, on the one hand seeing the 50 year old train amble up and down the track is both embarrassing and endearingly British. In Europe some old trains or trams are reserved (Riga for example). Whatever happens Cardiff awaits the shock of the new.


Thanks for reading here, should you be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, check out the MEDIA page, and/or the UNIVERSITY page for my teaching ethos. 

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Futurology – Manic Street Preachers
Lift – 808 State
Momentary Architecture – John Foxx and Harold Budd
Red – King Crimson

Photo credits: All shots by KH except Cardiff Central, (first image) Powell Dobson Architects/Network Rail Media, logos found online, Transport for Wales train from TfW.