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Monday, September 26, 2011

Fighting for electrification

Today's Western Mail goes into detail as to why the UK Government has got its business case for not electrifying the railway from Cardiff to Swansea wrong.

They say that heavy freight trains from the giant Port Talbot steelworks complex were omitted as was the “sparks effect”, the boost to rail passenger numbers which follows each electrification project. This meant that the electrification of the line to Swansea was not credited with reducing traffic on the M4 and other roads:

In the business case, the DfT says it “could not identify more than one train per hour becoming an electric train” if electrification continued to Swansea. This refers to the hourly London-Swansea service, which increases to two per hour in the morning and evening peaks.

The business case assumes that the proposed new bi-mode trains – powered by electricity or diesel – for London-Swansea services would be just as fast as electric trains west of Cardiff, and “consequently there would be no passenger benefits from electrification between Cardiff and Swansea”.

It adds: “Further ways in which to improve the case for electrification to Swansea were looked at, by examining whether other diesel services on this section could be converted to electric operation. However, significant changes were needed that would have required passengers to change trains, sometimes more often than once. The alternatives would also have increased train crew and rolling stock requirements.”

There is no reference in the business case to freight trains, whose performance can be significantly enhanced by swapping diesel locomotives for electric. Port Talbot steelworks is one of Britain’s biggest industrial destinations and origins for freight trains, and Network Rail says 15% of the UK’s rail freight passes through Cardiff.

Also missing from the document is acknowledgment of existing and future local passenger services west of Cardiff. The hourly service between Maesteg and Cardiff, due to become half-hourly in the next few years, could switch from diesel to electric by a simple extension of power supply along the single-track Bridgend-Maesteg branch.

There is also a local train every two hours between Cardiff and Swansea, serving smaller stations such as Pyle and Skewen. Experts have argued for years that there is demand for a frequent service linking Swansea to Cardiff, Bristol and Bath.

My understanding is that a lot of work is going on to convince the government to review the business case and that this will add to that. It is also clear that the decision some time ago to run half-hourly trains from Cardiff to London but not include Swansea was crucial in convincing the government that electrification to Wales second City was not viable.

This is one battle that I am hopeful we can win.
Er.. and what representations on rail electrification to Swansea have been made by Welsh Liberal Democrats to Phil Hammond and Teresa Villiers?
There have been representations from the Welsh Liberal Democrats in Swansea led by the Council Leader who met with the Minister and also a constant dialogue with the Deputy Prime Minister's Office at a National level.
Peter Black:

"..also a constant dialogue with the Deputy Prime Minister's Office at a National level."

Would that only involve Councillor Holley, or does it include LibDem AMs (such as yourself)?
Both! The Welsh Party acts as a conduit
I can see Yanks taking one look at the title of this post and thinking your an advocate of the death penalty....electric chair!
Is it not time that the route between Cardiff and Swansea was speeded up by stopping at least the Great Western services from halting at Bridgend, Neath and Port Talbot? Surely such small towns do not need an hourly direct service to London and Cardiff?
The London - Swansea trains have much greater capacity (7 or 8 coaches versus just 1 to 3 on most Arriva Trains Wales services). Cutting the Neath, Bridgend and Port Talbot stops from the Intercity train would probablly therefore make for even worse crowding on the Arriva services.

Now, IF there was a case for two trains an hour between Swansea and London, then perhaps it would be a good idea for one of those two trains an hour to run non-stop between Cardiff and Swansea. In fact, there might be a stronger case for 2 London - Swansea trains an hour if one was non-stop between Cardiff and Swansea. I don't think it would be the best use of line capacity though, an hourly service to Bristol might be more useful.
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