Electrification of London to Swansea line put on hold

  • 25 November 2010
  • From the section Wales

Wales' top politicians have reacted angrily to a decision to postpone electrifying the rail line between London and Swansea.

Transport Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones accused the UK government of "sidelining" Wales while investing £8bn in railways elsewhere.

First Minister Carwyn Jones called the announcement "disappointing".

The decision is postponed while the UK government decides which trains to use on the Great Western Main Line.

It said it needs to decide whether to replace the intercity fleet with electric trains, or electric-diesel hybrids beforehand and will publish a decision in the New Year.

Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan said she remained fully supportive of the electrification project and hoped to work with the Welsh Assembly Government on the business case.

Business case

But First Minister Carwyn Jones said the decision was frustrating as it was a non-devolved issue.

However, he signalled that the assembly government has not given up hope, adding: "We believe the business case for this investment - as it stands - is very robust, and will continue to make strong representations to the UK Government for this project to go ahead."

Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones, said: "This is yet another example of the UK Government side-lining Wales and avoiding their responsibilities to invest in our vital infrastructure.

"I have gone through a long process of negotiations and discussions to secure electrification to Swansea with the DfT and ultimately, our case was accepted.

"It would be unacceptable for the UK government to reverse that decision, putting Wales at a distinct disadvantage.

"This investment is crucial to the Welsh economy if we are to remain competitive against other parts of the UK."

Questions are being asked about why three transport schemes related to the London and Swansea line have been boosted while the electrification has been stalled.

Some 400 of the new carriages are for Crossrail (the new line being built east-west across London), 800 for Thameslink (the north-south link across London) and 650 will be given to different franchises around the country.

Those 650 carriages will be used to serve commuters travelling into the big cities.

Double capacity

But the UK government cannot say precisely which franchises will get what.

The Thameslink project is also going to go ahead in full. This will eventually double capacity on the route from Brighton to Bedford, allowing up to 24 trains an hour and lines in the north west - from Manchester to Liverpool and Manchester to Blackpool - are going to be electrified.

Ms Gillan said: "No final decision has yet been taken and I will continue to robustly argue the case with the secretary of state for transport and cabinet colleagues.

"This is not a simple process and a range of factors must be considered before any decision can be made.

"We should not forget that the last government failed to electrify a single centimetre of track in Wales during their 13 years in office.

"This government is far more responsible when it comes to public money and it is right that we examine in fine detail projects such as electrification to Swansea."

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said it was a "rolling programme" but said passengers would start to see the benefits "within the next few months".

But Shadow Welsh Secretary Peter Hain accused the UK government of leaving Wales behind.

He said: "The London-south Wales electrification has been kicked into the long grass - they claim it is still an 'aspiration' but have effectively ruled it out for decades.

"Cheryl Gillan should have been leading the campaign for electrification to Swansea.

"Her inaction on our part, and the government's decision, shows they just don't care about jobs and prosperity in Wales."

Plaid Cymru's Treasury spokesperson Jonathan Edwards MP accused the UK government of "leaving Wales in the slow lane" and making the Welsh economy vulnerable with the delays.

He said: "It seems that the UK government has been intent on delaying because they're trying all ways possible to avoid electrifying to Swansea - or even through Wales at all.

"The secretary of state needs to understand that these delays and uncertainties are not only unfair to travellers in Wales but risk undermining Wales on an economic level."

The overall investment package will increase capacity on the UK's railways by 17%, delivering more than 2,100 new rail carriages by May 2019 in a bid to tackle overcrowding on the busiest services.

Passengers face an average fare rise of 6.2% in the new year, with some commuters seeing their tickets go up by as much as 12.8%.

The UK government says these fare rises are necessary to safeguard the investment that has just been announced.

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