Rail upgrade decision put back to March

John Osmond says the announcement on electrification co-inciding with the Welsh Conservatives Spring conference could spell good news

The much anticipated announcement on electrification of the Great Western Main Line, expected before Christmas, and then delayed until ‘early in the New Year’ has, I understand, been put back to early March.

This I suggest is actually good news since we can now expect the announcement will be made at the Welsh Conservatives Spring conference, being held at Cardiff’s Swalec stadium over the weekend of 5-6 March, when Prime Minister Cameron will be speaking, in the immediate wake of the referendum and just ahead of the National Assembly election.

This timing is crucial for Welsh Conservatives and they would hardly be anticipating a negative announcement at such a sensitive time. Indeed the UK Party’s Spring Forum is being held in Cardiff at the same time as the Welsh Party’s conference so maybe we can expect the announcement will be made by David Cameron who will be in attendance.

There was speculation late last year that the Department for Transport was considering electrification only as far as Bristol, with an option for the Welsh Government to stump up the extra £200 million it would take to extend it to Swansea. As I commented at the time, if that’s what is in the offing the outlook will be bleak for the Lib Dems in next May’s Assembly election while the Tories would kiss goodbye to making any gains and would probably lose seats like Cardiff North. As Welsh Conservative leader Nick Bourne put it, welcoming the coming of the Spring Forum to his conference, “Hosting this national event in Wales just weeks before the Assembly poll shows how seriously we are taking these elections.”

The juxtaposition of events throws into timely sharp relief a conference the IWA is organising with Cardiff & Co and the Cardiff Business Partnership on Wales’ rail connectivity– full details here. Entitled End of the Line – Economic regeneration and rail connectivity in southern Wales, the conference has a powerful line-up of speakers who will reinforce the overwhelming case for upgrading our railways. Terry Morgan, Chair of Crossrail will start the day by explaining how rail investment is a vital component of economic regeneration. David Stevens, Chief Operating Officer with Admiral Insurance, will give us an insight into how the travel needs of the company’s workforce meant that their new headquarters had to be planned within half-a-mile of Cardiff Central Station.

Other big hitters at the conference include Mike Gallop, Route Enhancement Manager with Network Rail, Mark Hopwood, Chief Executive of First Great Western, and Mike Bagshaw, Commercial Director with Arriva Trains.

Also speaking will be transport consultant Mark Barry whose groundbreaking report making the case for A Metro for Wales’ Capital City Region we shall be publishing with the Cardiff Business Partnership in the next two weeks. The idea of a modern urban light rail system to connect Cardiff and Newport with the Valleys has been knocking about for decades. But this is the first time that a fully worked put plan and economic rationale for such a scheme has seen the light of day. I think it will prove one of the most important reports the IWA has been involved in producing over the past ten years.

Over 100,000 people commute into Cardiff and Newport every day, overwhelmingly by car. Within ten to 20 years this will simply be unsustainable. Fuel prices, congestion and sheer economic inefficiency will demand a shift to a higher grade public transport system. So, too, will the capital city’s looming housing crisis, as I reported on before Christmas here

Apart from enhancing Wales’s links with the rest of Britain, the importance of bring electrification to the Great Western Main Line into south Wales, is that it will make possible the creation of metro for Cardiff and the Valleys, and eventually fir Swansea Bay as well. In terms of developing Wales’ infrastructure there is no greater priority.

John Osmond is Directorof the IWA.

One thought on “Rail upgrade decision put back to March

  1. What about the report produced by the former Mid and South Glamorgan councils for a light railway system ?

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