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

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.

4 thoughts on “Great Western Main Line to be electrified to Cardiff

  1. Lobbying clearly pays off, as the successful campaign to ensure rail electrification reaches Wales, even if only as far as Cardiff at first, indicates. It was interesting to note that the statement Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, made in the Commons yesterday was couched entirely in a Welsh context – evidence the Government knew how strong a reaction there would be if earlier hints of a programme that would take the line to Bristol only were confirmed.
    Indeed, it was well into questions from other MPs that one Bristol MP pointed out rather peevishly that the Great Western main line went from London to Bristol Temple Meads through Bath and Chippenham with a branch to south Wales rather than from London to Cardiff with a branch to Bristol. Would the Swindon-Bristol be electrified, he asked or was it going to be electrified to Bristol only via Bristol Parkway?
    In confirming that both tracks to Bristol and the connection between Bristol Parkway and Temple Meads would also be electrified Mr Hammond did, however, reveal one interesting nugget which showed that the competitive challenge to south Wales posed by Bristol is not going to be diminished even with electrification to Cardiff. The investment on the Parkway to Temple Meads stretch, he pointed out, would make it possible to run four trains an hour to Bristol. Temple Meads will, when work has been completed, be served by an extra two trains an hour through Parkway as well as two an hour through Bath. And because two trains an hour to south Wales will also stop at Parkway this means both Bristol stations will have four trains an hour. This will make it possibly the best connected city in Britain, consolidating its position as the main transport and distribution centre for south west Britain.
    The decision not to proceed to Swansea is a disappointment, though compensated for, it must be said, by the positive steps being taken to bring electrification to the Valley lines. However, as commentators such as Mark Barry, author of last month’s crucial Cardiff Business Partnership/IWA publication supporting electrification, have already pointed out, completion of the work as far as Cardiff is a long way off leaving plenty of time to further make the Swansea (or indeed Carmarthen) case.
    It will not be popular in Swansea to do so but it is worth pointing out that two important cities in the south west, Plymouth and Exeter, as well as English cities such as Hull and Middlesbrough are missing out on electrification, and Scotland’s third city and Britain’s oil capital Aberdeen also does not have electrified services. Swansea’s best option now might be to join forces with Plymouth and Exeter to ensure the electrification teams being set up are simply moved on to extend the Great Western lines further when the overhead lines to Cardiff and Bristol are completed.
    The inclusion of the Valley lines in the proposals as a longer term and as yet unconfirmed objective was hinted at in the IWA conference which accompanied the publication mentioned above, and is both welcome and highly significant. If electrification of these lines goes ahead, it could, more than any other investment of recent years, help to draw people in Valley communities into work and bring much needed prosperity to some of the poorest parts of Wales. It marks a recognition, however, that years of trying to send jobs up the Valleys have not worked and instead it is better to bring people to the jobs (mainly in Cardiff). Like it or not, and many people will not, the announcement suggests Greater Cardiff is set to become a reality.

  2. Once the euphoria has subsided, perhaps a dose of the dismal science is required. Any improvement to the appalling transport infrastructure in Wales is to be welcomed. Especially the commitment to the Valleys.
    But why the excitement about speeding up links to London?
    Almost all response has been positive and pointed to the economic benefits. What confuses me is what benefits? Countless research and real policy has pointed to the simple fact that economic development comes from within and not from somewhere down the line. The great economic success of the small, northern countries of Europe is that – as The Economist recently put it – they recognised that there was no point in waiting for the world to come to them – they got on with developing their economies from within.
    The response too has been bogus. Roy Thomas of the Cardiff Partnership said that the electrification would be welcomed by employees working in Cardiff. So where are they coming from?

  3. John some data…
    100,000 people commute daily into Cardiff and Newport from neighbouring authorties. High quality, fast and dependable public transport for the region will help get these people out of their cars…..and enable more people to access more employment opportunities throughout the region.
    When Admrial decided to set up in Cardiff one of their criteria was <2 hours London. Today Cardiff would fail that test.
    Clearly better trasnport on its own won't deliver us a utopian economic revival - but it will help.

  4. As a commuter in the Cardiff/Valleys area, I’d be interested in how the metro system would actually work – sure, the map looks pretty and the journey times are great, but if a more detailed version of what that network map proposes was put out into the public domain (where are the new stations, where would the tramlines run through the city etc.), I think it would capture the public’s imagination a bit more and lead to more widespread public support, rather than the minor intrigue the local people have for it at the moment.

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