Monday, 7 March 2011


The three London based parties had a pretty poor record in the old parliament when it came to standing up for Wales. Things did not get off to a good start in this still relatively new parliament either - especially when the new Con Dem Government refused to either commit to or provide a timetable to develop a high speed rail link to Swansea - sorry make that Cardiff.

Originally New Labour only proposed to electrify and improve the rail line as far as Bristol, and only after the intervention of the Plaid driven One Wales Government and Ieuan Wyn Jones did they reluctantly agree to propose to electrify the line as far as Swansea.

In the long months that followed the emergence of the ConDem Government in Westminster, they were just a tad evasive when it comes to committing to the extending the electrification programme into Wales. And we are seriously expected to believe that Wales is a ConDem, let alone a Labour priority – I think not.

Now of course now it's not just the Swansea - London railway line that needs electrification, there are plenty of other more local lines including the North Wales Coast line and the Valley lines where the National Assembly can make a real difference to transport links and people’s lives. We should also not forget the Severn Tunnel diversionary line, which lies entirely outside of Wales, but, is particularly important.

So why is the Severn Tunnel diversion route important you may well ask? I mention it because, the proposed multi-million pound upgrade and electrification of the rail line between London and Cardiff, which if it goes ahead should be completed by 2017 and which should cut 20 minutes off the existing journey times, but this would only fix only part of the problem.

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 (or listen 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.

Interestingly enough back in November 2008 when Gordon Brown was running the shop, 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 a short sighted decision just wait until the ConDem cuts really kick in!

Anyway, you may have worked out by now 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 is 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 and electrification programme is under way on the mainline, its only common sense to electrify the line all the way from Severn Tunnel Junction through to Swindon as well.

So 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 do not need to be a member of. While the Con Dems have finally committed to electrification of the railway lines from Cardiff to London, admittedly with about as much grace as someone having wisdom teeth extracted, they have finally done so.

Having got this far we now need a concrete commitment to a timetable as to when the job will get actually gets done. Personally I would also ask them to start the work from the Cardiff end of the line. When it comes to electrified railways it used to be a case of literally for Wales see England - and that was never acceptable! However, as was once said, things can only get better !

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