Swansea's local Assembly Members Rebecca Evans AM, Julie James AM and Mike Hedges AM have again jointly written to Paul Maynard MP - the Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport - pressing for action on the electrification of the Great Western Main Line to Swansea.
In 2010, the then Labour Government approved the £1 billion scheme as far as Swansea. However, the coalition Government subsequently put it hold, but then approved it in March 2011 - but only as far as Cardiff. Electrification as far as Swansea was approved in July 2012.
The chairman of Network Rail, Sir Peter Hendy, has recently warned that electrification to Swansea is not a “done deal” and that any decision on electrification to Swansea - which is now due to reach Cardiff by late 2018 - will be for Network Rail's next five year spending period and it will be up against other rail improvement projects across the UK.
Rebecca Evans, Assembly Member for Gower said: ‘The current situation is extremely disappointing. We are the only country in Europe, apart from Albania, without any electric railways. Passengers and businesses desperately need the UK Government to deliver what it promised, and help build the modern railway we need.’
Hybrid electric-diesel trains have already been ordered for the Great Western Mainline. This will see trains switch from electric to diesel mode at Cardiff for the journey to Swansea and vice versa. The Assembly Members are concerned that this could make the business case for electrification even harder. In isolation, electrification from Cardiff to Swansea - as opposed from Paddington to Swansea - will struggle to hit the Department for Transport's return on investment criteria.
Mike Hedges, Assembly Member for Swansea East said: ‘If you were to travel by train to Swansea you would see that the infrastructure is ready, the buildings are up and the pylons are in. All that is needed is the overhead line carrying the current. The electric depot at Swansea was completed back in October 2015. We need this investment to provide more services, faster and more reliable services, to reduce the problems of overcrowding on the trains and stimulate economic growth.’
Great Western Railway have already removed several services in South Wales including the 17.15 service from Cardiff to Swansea which was well used by commuters and has since resulted in overcrowding in peak hour services from Cardiff westwards. A Saturday morning service from Swansea to Paddington which provided excellent connections for passengers from West Wales and a return Saturday evening service have also been removed, again without consultation. During the period of the Severn Tunnel closure in September/October 2016, GWR removed 75% of their weekday services in South Wales.
Julie James, Assembly Member for Swansea West said: ‘The modernisation of the route has potential to deliver significant benefits for passengers. However, the Department of Transport’s failure to plan and manage all the projects which now make up the Great Western route modernisation industry programme in a sufficiently joined up way has led to additional costs for the taxpayer.’