Great Western Main Line to be electrified to Cardiff

John Osmond hears today’s announcement in the House of Commons that the business case for upgrading the Valley lines will be examined






Bi-modal electric diesel trains will be used on the Great Western Main Line as far as Cardiff

The Welsh and UK Governments will jointly examine the business case for investing in electrifying the Valley lines into Cardiff and on to Barry during Network Rail’s next investment period between 2014 and 2019.

This announcement, made by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond in the House of Commons this afternoon, was accompanied by a commitment to electrify the Great Western Railway main line as far as Cardiff by 2017, but not to Swansea. He said the business case for looking at electrifying the Valley lines was stronger than for continuing electrification as far as Swansea.

The decision will shave off 20 minutes in train journey times between Cardiff and Paddington. The Transport Secretary said that even if the line was electrified to Swansea there would be no extra time gained. This was because the line between Cardiff and Swansea did not have the capacity to allow trains to be run at high speed.  “I understand the geography of the area creates difficulty and would involve significant expense if the line speed between Cardiff and Swansea was improved,” he said.

The decision will mean the use of bi-model electric diesel trains on the Great Western Main Line, replacing the present 125 train, rather than purely electric trains. This will have the effect of diminishing the environmental enhancement resulting from the investment since bimodal trains are heavier.

Bitter disappointment was voiced in the Commons today by Swansea’s two Labour MPs, Sian James and Geraint Davies, at the decision to halt electrification at Cardiff. Philip Hammond responded that his officials had been involved in intensive discussions with Welsh Government officials and the Wales Office in recent weeks over the decision.  There was an implication that it might be up to the Welsh Government to come up with the costs of enhancing the line speed of the Cardiff Swansea link, so making electrification worthwhile.

However, the really significant impact of today’s statement is the apparent commitment to electrifying the Valley lines. The need for this and the potential transformative impact was highlighted last month in the Metro report published by the IWA together with the Cardiff Business Partnership.

The report’s proposals, which produced a rail map for south-east Wales akin to the London Underground, envisages adding the following new tram or tram-train routes to the existing heavy rail network:

  • A new tram line south-east from Beddau and Creigiau to Cardiff and onto the Bay.
  • A new tram-line linking Maerdy with Llantrisant and Pontypridd.
  • Tram links to Penarth, Barry, Cardiff Airport and Bridgend.
  • A tram link alongside the south Wales mainline between Severn Tunnel Junction and Cardiff Central to serve intermediate stations.
  • A cross-Valley rapid bus transit from Pontypridd to Newbridge.

Key features of the scheme include:

  • A mix of electrified heavy rail, light rail and rapid bus transit.
  • A maximum 40 minute travel time from the heads of the Valleys periphery to the core at Cardiff and Newport city centres.
  • A maximum 15 minute wait at the periphery.
  • A maximum five minute wait at the core.
  • Economic regeneration focused on Cardiff Central and other key interchanges.

John Osmond is Director of the IWA.