The Westminster governments commitment to the electrification of the Great Western mainline through to Swansea (along with the electrification of the valley lines) may represent one of the largest commitment of resources to Wales for a specific project by a Westminster government in most people in Wales’s lifetimes. While this is significant it’s a job that upon completion will be at best partially completed because of a failure to commit to the electrification of the Severn Tunnel diversionary route from Kemble, in Gloucestershire to Swindon and through Lydney to connect with the mainline at Severn Tunnel Junction via Chepstow.
As regular rail users will know the regular closure of the Severn Tunnel for maintenance tends to be an issue when it comes to weekend travel. Historically the diversion added an hour to and from weekend journeys to Paddington – the line was only single track. This section was finally upgraded to double track (completed in August 2014) is the only diversionary rail route between South Wales and London so the next step should be to electrify the diversionary route in parallel to the planned electrification of the Great Western mainline to Swansea.
In the event of a major accident or incident in the tunnel, perhaps a crash, a fire or even flooding, we need a fully operational alternative so that passenger and freight services to London are not affected. 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 ageing Severn Tunnel is going to require more and more maintenance as time passes, it remains a vital transport link, but it ranks pretty low on Network Rails or Westminster’s list of priorities.
This is a vital rail link between Wales and London (and Europe) and the only alternative to using the Severn Tunnel. We need some original thinking to solve this potential block on our rail links; the construction of a railway bridge / tidal fence close to the Second Severn Crossing should be seriously considered as part of any plans to harness the enormous renewable energy potential of the Severn Estuary. This could carry the main rail link from South Wales, solving the problem of the Severn Tunnel, enhance rail services from Severn Tunnel Station and generate sustainable energy, which we will need in the very near future.