Electrification from Paddington to Swansea


Network Rail have just published a consultation document on electrification. The Financial Times has a good summary of what it contains:

Network Rail says big electric scheme would cut costs and journey times

A compelling case for the first big electrification programme for 20 years will today be presented by the company that runs Britain's railways - a move that would cut rail costs and lead to faster, more reliable and cleaner journeys.

The Network Rail consultation will say electrification of much of the Great Western route from London to western England and Wales and of the Midland main line from London to Sheffield makes most sense. Neither project would need any government grant or subsidy.

Geoff Hoon, transport secretary, last night welcomed the report, calling it a "valuable step". The Department for Transport is due to decide later this year on a resumption of rail electrification.

"The government is committed to electrification because of the benefits it brings to rail passengers, through more reliable and comfortable electric trains and a reduction in the country's carbon emissions and the cost of running the railway," Mr Hoon said.

Electric trains cost 33 per cent less per mile to maintain than diesel trains, the document says. They cost 45 per cent less in fuel, 18 per cent less to lease and produce less damage to track. Passengers should also enjoy shorter journeys thanks to electric trains' superior acceleration.

While emissions vary between train types, carbon dioxide emissions per mile from electric trains can be less than half those for comparable diesels.

The cost of putting up electric wires on the Midland main line from Bedford to Nottingham and Sheffield, and on the Great Western route from Maidenhead to Bristol and Swansea is likely to be relatively low. The Midland route cost would probably be about £100m and the Great Western about £120m.

Financial Times, 15 May 2009

Well, I'm certainly not going to disagree. The cost and environmental benefits are self evident, and I think it should have been done years ago.

Network Rail say that the projects don't need any grant or subsidy. That leaves me with mixed feelings: it means it will be paid for by rail fares that are already mile for mile higher than nearly everywhere else in Europe ... but at least it gets done, and that's the most important thing for now. The financial parameters are set by Westminster, we'll have to leave it to another time and a better government to properly factor in the cost of carbon emissions from road journeys and put that money into public transport instead.


Skimming through the full consultation document, the thing that we in Wales have to be most aware of is highlighted here:

The business case for the Great Western Main Line is most efficient when brought in line with the introduction of the Super Express fleet as part of the Intercity Express Programme, thereby enabling purchase of electric rather than diesel IEP and allowing the benefits of electrification to be taken from day one of their introduction.

The business case for electrification from Maidenhead (where the Crossrail electrification is assumed to stop) to both Bristol and Swansea is in the range of high value for money to financially positive. Not surprisingly, the case is stronger for Maidenhead to Bristol given that it involves the conversion of less mileage and carries more traffic. The incremental electrification from Bristol Parkway to Swansea is a relatively low value for money element of the overall scheme. The extension from the main line to Oxford is high value for money and would be recommended for implementation.

The section of line from Paddington to Maidenhead is going to be electrified as part of CrossRail. To put it bluntly, electrification from there to Bristol is a no-brainer. However, although going on to Cardiff and then Swansea is still financially positive, it is less so.

There has been a lot of behind the scenes negotiation going on. Even a few weeks ago things looked bleak. But to quote Chris Franks today:

“The Welsh section of the Great Western line was not included in the original draft of these plans but Plaid has put a strong case forward and managed to get it changed. Plaid’s Ieuan Wyn Jones has been taking this battle to the highest level and all the effort is now paying off.

“This is a huge boost to south Wales and if these plans are carried out, there will be significant improvements in services for businesses and ordinary travellers alike. But this is just the beginning of our campaign on this issue – we’ll continue to argue at Westminster and European level to get investment for other lines which are equally as important.”

Plaid website

But it's still not completely cut and dried. There is a 60 day consultation period, ending on 14 July 2009. The task for all our politicians, from all parties in Wales, is to now make sure that this electrification scheme does not get "rationalized down".

And I'm sure responses from us, the general public, won't go amiss either. Network Rail say they are "seeking feedback and comments to support and inform our further analysis".

So don't let them down. Especially if you are a passenger who uses the line. We have to give Network Rail no excuse not to electrify the line as far as Swansea.


A late addition, 11.21pm. There's another article here. It says that electrification would bring journey times to London down from 1hr 48min to around 1hr 25min.

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Gareth Clubb said...

MH - don't know if you'd had the chance to look at this yet... http://www.clickonwales.org/2010/12/wales-takes-the-slow-train/

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