Rail Industry Focus

01.07.12

Wales' electrification priorities

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Jun/Jul 2012

Frances Duffy, director of transport for the Welsh Assembly Government and a former director of rail for Transport Scotland, spoke at the recent ‘Devolving Rail to the Regions’ event in Manchester about the importance of electrification.

Wales has some powers over its railways, but unlike Scotland, many of the decisions still rest with the UK Department for Transport and the Secretary of State.

The country’s main franchise, Wales & Borders, was let by the now defunct UK-wide Strategic Rail Authority in 2003, and the next franchise does not begin until 2018. The DfT will be the franchising authority for that decision – although it must consult the Welsh Assembly Government, which has been managing the current franchise via a funding transfer.

On infrastructure, Welsh political leaders have been furiously lobbying the DfT over electrification: the westward extent of Great Western electrification was scaled back by the Coalition Government from Swansea to Cardiff, and there is also a keen desire to see the Cardiff Valley lines electrified during the next control period.

Frances Duffy, director of transport for the Welsh Assembly Government, told the recent ‘Devolving Rail to the Regions’ event in Manchester: “Devolution in Wales extends to the management specification of the franchise, but not the base infrastructure itself. We’ve been working closely with our colleagues at the DfT, looking at the investment priorities. We’re looking very specifically at trying to focus investment on making it a more effective and more efficient rail network for the future, so therefore a lot of focus is on electrification, particularly of the Valley lines.

“The first one is the GWML. We have already heard from the DfT the commitment to electrify as far as Cardiff, but of course the line goes way beyond Cardiff, out to Swansea. We are working with colleagues in London on developing the business case for extending electrification for the full line.

“It’s important for us, as we see the [area from] Swansea right through Cardiff, Newport and into Bristol, and on, as a key area of economic growth and connectivity. We have our ports to the west of Cardiff: it’s important we keep that connectivity for them. Electrification will also allow us to do work on the gauge enhancement of the line, to improve our offering for freight.

“It’s an important TEN-T (Trans- European Transport Networks) line as far as Europe is concerned, with ports at Milford Haven, etc, so we’re working with the DfT to ensure we can attract what European funding is possible for that line.”

But the second priority, she explained, is Valley lines electrification. She said: “We put a revised business case into the DfT last summer and we’ve been working with them on that. It very much fits with the aspiration of Wales to ensure we tackle areas of deprivation that need regeneration, making sure we have employment opportunities, and provide the bedrock for greater economic growth along the corridor.

“Many of the Valley lines…are in traditional villages that were based around primarily the mining districts. It’s important that we offer these people opportunities for the new jobs and new work building up along the Cardiff- Swansea-Newport conurbations. A key priority for us is growing the economy in the south of Wales and we see connectivity, bringing people to jobs, as a key factor in that. The electrification of the network is a first step.

“We have old diesel trains, due to be renewed some time early in the next franchise period. That feels the right time to be thinking of electrifying, making sure that when we’re renewing trains, we’re renewing onto a more modern rail network.

“Our key discussions with the DfT at the moment have been centred on what we mean by the ‘Valleys’: how much we should do, this line, that line – the important thing for us is that it’s the whole network. It’s the whole network working together that will form the basis of our city region planning, a wider metro-style plan for the areas. Since we are already working with Network Rail on Great Western electrification, it’s the right time to be making that investment too. Hopefully we will hear positively in July from the Secretary of State [in the HLOS].”

The ‘Devolving Rail’ event was organised by Landor LINKS Ltd and sponsored by Abellio and Serco.

The Welsh rail network

- 26m passenger journeys a year
- 6.9% growth in passenger services since 1998
- Annual franchise subsidy of £170m
- 15% of UK rail freight uses the Welsh portion of the GWML

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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