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21.11.14

South Wales electrification to go ahead as governments settle feud

A deal has been struck between the Welsh government and Westminster to electrify railway lines in south Wales after a long-running dispute over who should pay.

Part of the deal will also see control of the Wales and Borders rail franchise devolved to the Welsh government, who will be able to decide on the operator for the new franchise in 2018.

David Cameron is set to unveil the agreement on a visit to Newport today. He will announce a £230m funding package that will see his government put £125m towards the Valley Lines electrification, with the Welsh government liable for the remaining cost, estimated at around £170m. First minister Carwyn Jones said that it could be done at “no net cost” to the Welsh government.

His plan will see the next holder of the Wales and Borders franchise repay the capital costs of electrification of the Valley Lines through an agreed annual “access charge”.

However, because electrified trains will be more efficient and carry more passengers than the current diesel services, the next operator will require a much lower subsidy from the Welsh government to ensure there will be no net cost.

The final £105m of Cameron’s funding package is for the electrification of the Main Line to Swansea, which the UK government will take over funding and delivery of as part of the deal. The Welsh government will be in charge of sponsorship and delivery of the Valley Lines project.

Cameron said: “I am delighted to announce today that we are going to press ahead with the electrification of the Valley Lines. After years of neglect, this part of Wales will finally get the infrastructure it needs with faster, more modern, more efficient trains and the impact will be huge.”

Work could start on Valley Lines electrification as early as 2019. The move would reduce journey times from both Merthyr Tydfil and Treherbert to Cardiff to less than 50 minutes.

The deal comes after Welsh secretary Stephen Crabb restarted constructive dialogue between the two governments. On taking up his role in the summer he described a deal on the Valley Lines electrification as his number one priority.

Talks between the two governments broke down earlier this year over an argument about who would foot the bill. Carwyn Jones claimed the UK government agreed it would fund the electrification of the London-Swansea main line and the Valleys lines, leading to the Welsh secretary at the time, David Jones, saying he was “appalled” by the Welsh government’s behaviour and that arrangements for the Welsh government to cover the costs had been put in place in 2012.

After getting the deal back on track Crabb welcomed today’s announcement: “This is fantastic news for Wales and provides a major incentive for businesses to invest in the country. I am delighted that we can now seize this opportunity to transform the Valley communities.

“Effective transport links are a vital part of any modern economy and there are few areas in the UK more in need of the improved commuter costs, travel times and more frequent train services that this investment brings.”

The deal was also welcomed in Wales by the first minister, Carwyn Jones said: “I am delighted we have been able to come to an agreement on the funding for this very important project. This deal will deliver electrification all the way from London to Swansea and enable us to move forward plans to modernise the Valleys Lines at no net cost to the Welsh government.  

“Together with an agreement to fully devolve power over the Welsh rail franchise this will allow the Welsh government to move forward with its ambitious plans to create the efficient and reliable rail service Wales needs and deserves.”

Welsh transport minister Edwina Hart added: “Today’s announcement is the result of a great deal of hard work and co-operation between the Welsh government and the Department of Transport.

“Electrification of the mainline will be a massive step forward in creating a modern train service that is capable of meeting future demand and supporting economic growth. Upgrading, electrifying and improving the Valleys Lines is vital to our ambitions for delivering the South Wales Metro.”

(Image: c. Matt Buck)

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

Comments

Pedr Jarvis   21/11/2014 at 23:30

This is thoroughly good news. It is a pity it has been so long delayed. Now, what about the North Wales line, which is one of the principal routes to the adjacent Republic of Ireland? The Voyagers are now commonly of ten cars instead of five, and people seem to be travelling in increasing numbers to avoid the horrors of the airports at Heathrow or Birmingham. The railway may need overhead third rail through Conwy Tubular Bridge and Penmaenmawr Tunnel, but Robert Stephenson built a splendid piece of engineering that doesn't need much updating.

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