Rumours about Electrification

There are two potentially good stories today from Adrian Masters and WalesOnline about the electrification of the Great Western Line to south Wales:

     Adrian Masters, Electrifying news for St. David’s Day?
     Rail electrification decision to South Wales expected tomorrow

But I would like to add a note of caution, if not warning. This is what today's Bristol Evening Post has to say:

It is rumoured the Secretary of State for Transport will sanction the electrification of the Great Western line from London Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads. And it looks like a deal to build the next generation of inter-city trains is edging closer.

The Department for Transport has developed a plan, which will be put before the Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond.

The complex arrangement would include electrification of the Great Western line as far as Bristol. But it has been decided there is not a sufficiently strong business case for electrification through the Severn tunnel to South Wales.

Bristol Evening Post, 28 February 2011

I very much hope the Bristol Evening Post is wrong, so let's not get too excited until we know for sure.

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John Dixon said...

Surely, even this lot couldn't choose St David's Day to anounce that Wales would NOT be getting electrification??

Owen said...

The "next generation of intercity trains" would qualify as affecting Wales as Adrian Masters puts it. Of course it's meaningless if electrification doesn't go west of Bristol and I don't think I'd be the only one unsatisfied by the prospect of new hybrid trains. The infrastructure matters more.

Anything short of electrification to, at the very least, Cardiff will be a "kick in the teeth". My gut instinct tells me that the Bristol Post is probably right, they seem pretty sure .

I'd be delighted to be proven wrong though.

MH said...

But do you think that Philip Hammond even knows tomorrow is St David's Day, John?

I don't want to be unduly pessimistic, but the thinking was that the Tories would announce the good news at their spring conference this coming weekend; after the referendum and as a way of launching their Assembly election campaign.

But if it's bad news, it could be better to get it out now, in the hope that it gets lost in all the referendum coverage.

MH said...

Unless electrification also goes down to Cornwall (which nobody is yet planning) there will have to be hybrid trains, Owen.

In fact the cost of the trains is a much bigger factor (at £7.5bn, some six or seven times more) in the equation than the cost of electrifying the route.

Owen said...

The Bristol Post article says that the South West (presumably Somerset, Devon & Cornwall) will continue to "use refurbished 35-year old HSTs".

Electrification doesn't necessarily mean new trains, the TOC's could lease electric trains off the shelf. Building a whole new fleet of trains doesn't seem cost effective.

Prof. Stuart Coles said this approach "doesn't make economic sense".

One of the major advantages of electrification is that, due to multiple factors, a lesser need for track maintainance means it pays for itself eventually. Wales will lose any kind of advantage in this case if diesel trains are still running west of Bristol.

The nightmare (and admittedly unlikely) scenario could be that a diesel locomotive has to be attached to Wales and South-West England bound trains, reminiscent of a Soviet border crossing rather than a a 21st century rail service in a supposed "global power".

John Dixon said...

"But do you think that Philip Hammond even knows tomorrow is St David's Day"

I suppose it's not impossible that incompetence could run to that level. I'm pretty cynical, I know, but even I'm having trouble believing that they could get things that wrong...

MH said...

The thought of an extended stop while a diesel is coupled or uncoupled would be horrendous, Owen. The Bristol Post talks of underfloor diesel engines on the new trains; different from the hybrid originally proposed, which was a diesel at one end. But either means carrying fuel and its extra weight on the westward journey, which negates one of the benefits, namely reduced wear and tear on the track.

But let's wait and see. The news might yet be good.

Anonymous said...

No, no I don't think the ConDem's would do this on St David's day. Cheryl Gillan and the Wales Office would have warned them about it.

Anonymous said...

You assume Cheryl Gillan knows who St David is.....


Anonymous said...

"But it has been decided there is not a sufficiently strong business case for electrification through the Severn tunnel to South Wales."

I've heard virtually the same wording as the Evening Post's used repeatedly but in the context of speculation that a decision to electrify into Wales would be carried out regardless of this apparent business case. Sounds like an agreed position to me.

My best guess is that if electrification goes ahead, it could be to Cardiff. The other big questions though, as previous comments have highlighted, are what happens with rolling stock and the timetable for electrification.

MH said...

Thanks for the comment, Adrian. I think the anouncement's due at 4:30 ... but why not speculate about it, I ask myself? So this is my best guess.

What has characterized the Tory approach so far has been to do things on a piece-by-piece basis rather tham make a commitment to a whole scheme. That's why we have so far got a commitment to Didcot (i.e. as part of the decision to electrify to Oxford). It's not really a surprise that the commuter routes into London are rated as more of a priority than to do the whole main line first, followed by the branches off it. That's how Tories would be expected to look at things.

So I would say that we will get a commitment to Bristol today; but, crucially, that it will be both routes to Bristol (the main GWR and the line via Chippenham and Bath) on the grounds of being able to provide a resilient service between London and Bristol. That argument has some merit, particularly with regard to the trains that will be needed to run the service.

I think we will then be told that the option to south Wales is being kept open, subject to working out details on funding. It is only a few miles from Bristol Parkway to the Severn Tunnel, and the UK Government might well make a commitment to fund that, but leave electrification the other side of the tunnel to be part-funded from another source, guess which one. We will also be told that this will not affect the timetable, and that we could still get electrification of the whole line to Swansea by 2017 or maybe 2019, but that the decision can be left for another few years. It will be presented as "a positive and important commitment towards electrification to Cardiff and Swansea".

But I'd love to be proved wrong!

MH said...

Just watching the announcement. Cardiff it is, but not Swansea. Half marks. Glad to be wrong.

But there is the possibility of electrification of the Valleys lines (and down to Barry) in the next review, which will be in 2014. That might result in new services to tie in with the replacement of the Arriva franchise in 2018.

MH said...

Hammond has just clarified that both lines to Bristol are going to be electrified.

That extra stretch of electrification is in fact almost exactly the same length as the length of track from Cardiff to Swansea. In other words, Chippenham and Bath will now get the electrification that was previously intended to go to Swansea.

Owen said...

On the one hand - good, but not great, news.

On the other hand it still leaves many questions unanswered.

The need for new hybrid intercity trains along the entire stretch from Paddington to Swansea would be eliminated, surely saving money, if they had electrified the extra 40 miles or so to Swansea. Are Hitachi Conservative donors by any chance?

I don't buy the "no demand" argument either. He seems to be arguing that because the trains are only hourly off-peak, the Swansea stretch doesn't warrant electrification. Doesn't make sense to me. Service patterns are similar across the whole stretch of the line whichever side of the Severn you're on. An hourly train from Swansea is still an hourly train from Bristol Parkway, Swindon etc.

Time to press to devolve rail in line with Scotland me thinks.

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