News

MPs claim minsters saved £430m on axed electrification schemes within Wales

Savings made from the cancellation of rail electrification schemes between Swansea and Cardiff need to fund improvements to the Welsh transport network, MPs say.

The Welsh Affairs committee has published a report claiming UK ministers have saved "at least £430m" by scrapping electrification schemes and those behind the report state “lessons must be learnt” from the failures in planning and execution of the Great Western electrification programme.

The paper points to a “stark gap” in funding between Wales and other parts of the UK. The Welsh Government has said that 11% of the UK rail network is in Wales, but that since 2011 it has received only 1.5% of the money spent on rail enhancement. MPs have called on the government to not use the money on projects such as Crossrail 2 or the Northern Powerhouse.

Commenting on the report, chair of the committee, David Davies, has criticised “watered-down proposals” in the introduction of the new trains and says money should be made available to explore new infrastructure proposals like the Swansea Bay Metro.

The metro system is said to reduce lengthy journey times between Swansea with a proposed new route via Baglan nearly halving journey times from 55 minutes to half an hour. MPs say the option should be explored in more detail, and if initial investigations indicate the proposal is viable, a full business case be developed.

Davies added: “The failures in planning and delivery of the Great Western line, and in particular the stretch between Cardiff and Swansea, are well known. Projected costs and benefits were completely out of sync with reality. Delays and watered-down proposals mean that even the introduction of much needed new rolling stock has left a sour taste. However, we now must look forward from this point and work out how we can improve Welsh transport after decades of underinvestment. We have heard interesting proposals, such as the Swansea Bay Metro, but it is essential that a full assessment on the state of the South Wales network is carried out, and any future plans properly costed and the true impact understood. We must put an end to grand infrastructure projects promising much and delivering little.”

The report also suggests that the outlook moving forward is far rosier outside Wales with predications that the economic boost of HS2 for England could have the knock-on effect of reducing employment growth in Wales by 21,000 jobs in the coming decades. The committee highlights the decision of Virgin Media to relocate hundreds of jobs from Swansea to Manchester had brought home these concerns.

Responding to the report, David Clarke, technical director of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “The Welsh Affairs Select committee report published today highlights concerns about the change in government policy on electrification, following the cancellation of a number of planned projects in 2017. The RIA which provided evidence to the committee, shares these concerns and urges the government to keep electrification on the table as the optimal form of traction for intensively used routes. It is clear that electrification is environmentally friendlier, cheaper in the long term, quieter and creates less wear to track. The government has set the industry a challenge to decarbonise by 2040. In order to achieve the goal the industry must have all possible solutions on the table, including electrifying intensively used routes where there are clear benefits of passengers, freight companies and the environment of doing so.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport defended its investment program.

“We are investing in the most significant upgrade of our rail network since Victorian times to improve journeys for passengers across the country, including in South Wales,” the spokesman said. Thanks to this investment, passengers travelling to South Wales on the Great Western Mainline are already benefitting from modern faster trains with more space and better facilities like Wi Fi. We will respond to the report in due course.”