Now don't get me wrong I warmly welcome the plans to electrify the Swansea to London rail line - this is long overdue and down to some exceptionally hard negotiating by Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones (AM). The multi-million pound upgrade and electrification of the rail line between London and Swansea, which should be completed by 2017 and should also cut 20 minutes off the existing journey time is to be warmly welcomed.
However, when the Severn Tunnel is closed for maintenance rail traffic from South Wales is diverted via a single-track 12-mile section of line between Swindon and Kemble (in Gloucestershire) any plans to upgrade this section to double track as it is the only diversionary route between Wales and London were conspicuous by their absence from network Rail’s plans last November.
The aging Severn Tunnel requires more maintenance as time passes, it remains a vital transport link, but ranks pretty low on Network Rails list of priorities. Last November, the Office of Rail Regulation’s settlement for Network Rail allocated some £26 billion pounds some 2.4 billion less than requested; this is disappointing as it has forced Network Rail to drop a number of projects. One project to restore the 12 miles of single track to double from Kemble to Swindon was dropped, the reduced capacity of this line adds an hour to passenger journeys as trains to and from Wales have to wait for services coming in the opposite direction.
We need some original thinking to solve this potential block on our rail links; one of the options being considered as part of the review of proposals for generating energy from the Severn Estuary; is the construction of a smaller barrage or tidal fence close to the Second Severn Crossing. This could relatively easily carry the main rail link from South Wales, this is the kind of joined up original thinking we need to solve the problem of the Severn Tunnel and to generate sustainable energy, both of which we will need in the near future.