When it comes to standing up for Wales all three of the London based parties had a pretty poor record in the old Parliament. Things have not got off to a good start in the new one either - especially when it comes to rail they have refused to provide a timetable to develop a high speed rail link to Swansea, this effectively puts us out of sight and out of mind as far as High Speed rail.
Plaid’s Ieuan Wyn Jones successfully negotiated the multi-million pound the extension of the proposed upgrade and electrification of the rail line between Swansea and London. When the electrification scheme was originally proposed by New Labour it was to go only as far as Bristol, and only after the intervention of the Plaid driven One Wales Government did they agreed to electrify the line as far as Swansea.
The ConDem Government in Westminster, if one was being kind could be described as evasive when it comes to committing to the extending the electrification programme into Wales - so much for Wales being a ConDem priority. It's not just Swansea - London that needs electrification, there are plenty of other lines including the North Wales Coast line, the Valleys lines and the Severn Tunnel diversionary line.
I mention this because, the proposed multi-million pound upgrade and electrification of the rail line between London and Swansea, which if it goes ahead should be completed by 2017 and which should cut 20 minutes off the existing journey times, would only fix only part of the problem. So why is the Severn Tunnel diversion route important you may well ask?
It's pretty simple really, 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 in 2008/2009.
Talk to anyone who works the rails (or anyone who has relatives who work on the rails) in the south and they will tell you that the aging Severn Tunnel is going to require more maintenance as time passes, yet it remains a vital transport link, but it ranks pretty low on Network Rails list of priorities. In November 2008, the Office of Rail Regulation's settlement for Network Rail allocated some £26 billion pounds some 2.4 billion less than requested; this has forced Network Rail to drop a number of projects (if you think this was bad just wait until the ConDem cuts kick in!).
Anyway, you may have guessed that, one of the project that was dropped was a plan to restore the 12 miles of single track to double from Kemble to Swindon, at the moment 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, and lets not forget any impact on rail freight movements.
This is a vital link between Wales and London (and Europe) and the only alternative to using the Severn Tunnel. In the event of a major accident or incident in the tunnel, perhaps a crash, a fire or even flooding, then we need a fully operational alternative so that passenger and freight services to London are not affected.
It is pretty essential that re-doubling work on the line, which would allow at least an hourly service, is carried out as quickly as possible. While the upgrade is under way, its only common sense to electrify the line all the way from Severn Tunnel Junction through to Swindon as well.
So there we are at the moment Wales, is one of the few counties in Europe, save for Albania and Moldova to have no electrified rail-lines, this is one exclusive club we could well do without being a member of. As has been pointed out elsewhere within the blog sphere, there is more to this than the electrification of the railway lines, though - Wales needs a public and concrete commitment to a timetable for High Speed Rail in Wales, otherwise what we are really talking about when it comes to high speed rail is for Wales see England - and that is not acceptable!