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Thursday, November 25, 2010

The case for electrification

As I understand it the decision of the UK Government to put the electrification of the Great Western Main Line from London to Swansea on hold is actually not a bad result for Wales. Given the situation that the Coalition inherited from Labour it was inevitable that a huge amount of work needed to be done before any government could be in a position to announce this sort of investment.

We should not forget that Gordon Brown announced the electrification project in 2009 and said work would start immediately but nothing happened. Not only did Labour fail to put aside any money to pay for the project, they had not carried out any of the detailed technical work needed before the project could even start. There was no business case that the incoming Minister could pick up and run with.

The prerequisite of any project of this kind of course is that it gets the traveller from A to B much quicker. What is apparent is that running an electric current along the London to Swansea route will not do that without significant investment in the rolling stock and possibly in the track itself. This then has become a much bigger project than was originally envisaged.

I am encouraged therefore that the Government has left this door open and have said that they are continuing to work on the scheme. It is all very well for Peter Hain to complain that Wales is being left behind, but if he and his colleagues had done the groundwork when they had a chance then the electrification of the mainline would be that much closer.
Perhaps Peter people should read the Foster report on the hybrid trains which was commissioned in February by the Labour government. Whatever trains are selected will have a life span of probably over 40 years.Foster points out that there are real concerns over the bi mode trains proposed by the Agility consortium not just in terms of costs but also in terms of the technology. Civil servants in the DfT will obviously want to get this right given the mistakes made in the past when it comes to government procurement decisions.The report also makes some interesting points about the relationship between the industry and the DfT . It might be OK from the Welsh end of the telescope to argue that electification of the GWR to Swansea is a'no brainer'. From the Whitehall end where the decisions will have to made it probably doesn't look so cut and dried. Given that the decision to upgrade Thameslink and purchase new carriages will free up carriages for commuter routes to Newbury I would expect in the New Year a decision on the trains and a start date for electrification perhaps to Reading.When it will reach Bristol let alone Cardiff is another matter. Cross Rail is not due for completion until 2018 and HS2 to Birmingham wouldn't even get Parliamentary approval until 2015.Even if there is a decision to start the electrification wether it even reaches Cardiff will probably be up to the government elected in 2015. As for Swansea this probably depends on the type of train chosen. If the UK government decides to go with the bi mode to replace the 125s I can't see either the DfT or the Treasury supporting electrification beyond Cardiff. What is amusing about the whole issue is that you would think that a major capital project of this sort was as simple as purchasing a model railway set. It also makes you wonder where successive governments have been for years when the technology to electrify the line was there even before the decision was made in the 1970s to got for the diesel powered 125s.
Peter, I appreciate your blog post. You're right... successive govt's have botched any investment in the railway network. Much as I'm disappointed they've decided to electrify the line only as far as Bristol for now (it does feel yet again that Wales is forgotten/bottom of the list), I do get that they're playing catch up.
I dont think they have even made a decision or an announcement on the line as far as Bristol. I believe the whole line is still under review.
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