Posted 17th January 2011 | 11 Comments

New bid for GW electrification to Wales

Under present plans, the wires will only reach Didcot

Under present plans, the wires will only reach Didcot

A GROUP of political and business leaders in South Wales is urging the Department for Transport to extend the electrification of the Great Western Main Line to Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea.

One councillor said the issue was a ‘critical’ one for the Welsh capital.

The transport secretary Philip Hammond announced partial electrification of the Great Western route on 25 November.

This will take the wires on from their present termination on the main line at Airport Junction, near Hayes and Harlington, as far as Newbury and Oxford.

After the announcement in November, Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones branded the news ‘disappointing’. Transport minister Ieuan Wyn Jones was also critical, accusing the DfT of ‘sidelining’ the Principality.

Mr Hammond’s plan to include Oxford would also mean the electrification of the main GW line as far as Didcot Parkway but the group, of about 80 community leaders, says continuing electrification across the Severn to South Wales would provide an essential economic lifeline.

The group, the Great Western Partnership, includes local authorities as well as the South East Wales Economic Forum.

The leader of Cardiff council Rodney Berman said: “Electrification of the main line is a critical issue for the Cardiff city-region which is why we, along with Bristol and Swindon councils, formed the Partnership.”

The electrification announced so far by the DfT would cater for commuter and regional services between London and the Thames Valley, but leaves the question of intercity trains undecided. The DfT said: ‘The extent of further electrification for intercity services is dependent on the intercity train option we choose.’

This will hinge on the eventual fate of the delayed Intercity Express Project. Hitachi was named as preferred IEP bidder almost two years ago, but the programme has stalled since then, partly because of economic problems but also because the extent of future electrification is still under review.

A wider assessment of railway spending is in progress, which will be informed by Sir Roy McNulty’s ‘Value for Money’ report, due to be published this year.

Another factor is the recent go-ahead for High Speed 2 between London, Birmingham, Manchester, the East Midlands and Leeds, which would influence the case for and against electrifying the Midland Main Line between Bedford and Sheffield.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • John Richards, Cardiff, Wale

    This once in a lifetime opportunity has been watered down. It is unlikely to be repeated for a long time, and while I applaud the final provision of modern traction to Cardiff 30 years after it should have been done, I am appalled that this parsimonious half-scheme will hobble the rest of the GW network for the forseeable future.

    A chance to finally provide cutting edge electric trains that could cope with the South Devon banks, not to mention Stormy and Skewen, and significantly reduce journey times to Plymouth and Swansea as opposed to restoring the Swansea times to the 1978 level has been missed. The 'Dual Mode' trains will apparently be carting some 40 tonnes or so of deisel engines, switchgear, and fuel around underneath them which will detract from performance while under the wires, while the attempt to keep the deadweight to an acceptable level has I suspect resulted in an underpowered diesel train which will struggle on Stormy and Skewen, although I accept that in the case of the latter bank the lower speed will ease the problem.

    HSTs are to continue in the far west, and while these may be still capable of good performance and reliablility, in terms of comfort, facilities and noise levels they are well past thier sell by date.

  • George Davidson, Cardiff

    David Oleesky says that many of the Great Western Main lines only have 1 or at most 2 trains per hour. This is complete nonsense. If he were to stand on a bridge over the railways (4 tracks) between Cardiff and Newport, he would see at least 18 passenger trains (counting both ways) per hour - 4 of which are HST\'s on the London route. Likewise, if he were to go to Dawlish in Devon, he would see far in excess of 4 passenger trains per hour.West of Cardiff, he would see at least 6 passenger trains per hour (counting both ways).

    Clearly, these lines are heavily used but not all services are London bound. It therefore makes sense to have a rolling programme of electrification so that all routes are electrified. For example, if we get the main line between Cardiff & Bath electrified as part of the HST replacement programme, then it makes sense to also have the Bath to Southampton line wired so that the Cardiff > Portsmouth trains can be all electric (with 3rd rail adaptors for the southern section). Being as that then becomes the case, these new trains could be extended under the wires to Swansea to replace the present sprinter stopping services. Hence, we gain a Swansea to Portsmouth all electric service as a \"bonus\" to the Swansea > London route and get the most \"bang for our bucks\". We also gain an all electric diversionary route for London trains which would be able to via Westbury should the main line to Taunton & Exeter > Plymouth get electrified. Then, with Taunton to Plymouth electrified, we wire from Taunton to Britstol > Cheltenham > Birmingham. Now we have wires all the way from Glasgow to Plymouth and get rid of some of those awful Voyagers. (Whoever thought that these were suitable for long distances)? Hence, as we roll out electrification, we get the added bonus of other routes than those which are simply the London FGW HST\'s.

    Extra coaches to the HSTs: nobody would want to spend money on this idea. The HSTs have slam doors and outmoded toilets that are not user friendly or up to modern standards. They have had good use out of them and now need to be scrapped or packed off to the third world. Yes, they are running slower than when introduced back in the 70s, partly because of an extra stop at Didcot. However, the main reason is that FGW (in common with other TOCs), run their trains about 10% slower than the speed limits so that they can make up time and avoid being late - which would not look good on the stat tables!

  • Richard Woodward, Bristol, UK

    ok, even as a supporter of electrified railways I do not see how this will help Wales or west of England, why?

    Well there's no way anyone can say 15mins will be cut off a journey time to Cardiff unless the trains are going to exceed 125mph....which they won't. With faster acceleration you will save 4/5 minutes at the very best. If you don't believe me, have a look at old timings by diesel 125's and then their new 'electric' replacements. You save about 10 minutes over 393 miles to Edinburgh, Cardiff is not far from London and over 145/150 miles or so, savings will be minimal.

    Secondly, the HST is running better now than it ever has done reliability wise and I grant you times are longer than they've ever been, but this is to do with excessive stopping patterns slowing the journey times down and not to do with the trains themselves.

    Finally, unless electrification was to extend to the WHOLE of Great Western and new electric trains introduced (which I would then support whole heartedly), there will be little benefit of electrifying this route other than to say 'yay, we have electric trains' which does not seem a good enough reason in itself!

    125mph is the most you will ever achieve from the Great Western because of capacity constraints that couldn't be forseen when 125's were introduced and it is a 2 track railway west of Didcot severely dampening speed opportunity by sharing these tracks with other traffic.

    I think money would be better spent electrifying the rest of East Coast Main Line and leaving Great Western as an HST railway and adding an extra coach to each set.


    Further electrification should be concentrated in the most densely populated parts of Great Britain and where in fill electrication would reduce diesel trains running under the wires. As lines in South-East England are already mostly electrified, this effectively means the Midlands (including the Midland main line), Lancashire/Yorkshire and the central belt of Scotland, together with the route from Southampton to the Midlands via Reading, for which GW electrification as far as Oxford would be helpful.
    Electrifying the ex-GW lines in/to the West of England and Wales would be much less cost-effective as the population density is significantly lower and the lines spread out, with many routes having only 1 (or at most 2) passenger trains per hour and little freight. In addition, electrifying the Severn Tunnel would be a major engineering challenge.

  • Claydon William, Norwich, Norfolk

    The continued letting of piecemeal electrification schemes is abject nonsense, given the long term pressures on carbon policies.

    What ought to happen, is the employment on 20 year contracts of a team of around 200 electrication engineers in three teams each with an electrification \'factory train\', with all-party political agreement to get on and electrify the network.

    There would be enormous benefits to the taxpayer in terms of continuity, design economies and massive cost reduction.

    But then I suppose since when have politicians ever acted in the interests of taxpayers?

  • Peter Hooper, Windsor., UK

    Hansard 8th December 2010: Great Western Railway: Electrification

    Dr Francis: To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what recent discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the timetable for electrification of the Great Western main line. [28261]

    Mrs Gillan: I have had, and continue to have, discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport about this matter. We have already announced £7 billion of rail infrastructure improvements that will reduce journey times to Cardiff by 15 minutes and we will now work with the Welsh Assembly Government on the business case for further electrification.

  • Lorentz, London

    There are good technical reasons supporting the current plans for electrification. The wires will eventually reach Cardiff, but the availability of funds will determine when this will happen.

  • Colin Brown, London

    The real problem here is that since the last election the political landscape has changed, whereas there was political advantage for the previous government to electrify the G W R all the way to Swansea, the present government would get more of advantage in improving commuter services in and around the London area. This is one of the failings in the devolution in that Wales wasn't given an equal say over Rail investment like what has happened in Scotland. Common sense suggest that the line should be electrified to Swansea, and that the commuters lines around Bristol, and Cardiff should also be electrified in order to make best use of this investment. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

  • George Davidson, CARDIFF, UK

    The wires should definately go all the way to Swansea as well as Bristol TM via Bath & Bristol Parkway. Both of these routes include long tunnels. It cannot be good for public health for these tunnels to be polluted by diesel fumes.

    We need a rolling programme of electrification - obviously starting with the Great Western main lines as the HST's are reaching the end of their service.

  • Garth, Chippenham

    DFT - ‘The extent of further electrification for intercity services is dependent on the intercity train option we choose.’
    Surely an example of putting the cart before the horse!

  • Rob, West Yorkshire

    I totally agree. Terminating electrification at Oxford seems pretty pointless. While there is momentum, resources and equipment to hand, they should press on to Swansea.

    In my opinion, this Government doesn't seem driven by fact or common sense, just a short term ideology which will leave a legacy of a Country in decline.