COMMONS

Savings from cancelled electrification scheme should fund Welsh transport boost

21 May 2018

The Welsh Affairs Committee warns that lessons must be learnt from the failures in planning and execution of the Great Western electrification programme, and that future schemes must clearly demonstrate value for money before getting the go-ahead.

Investment in Welsh transport

There is a stark gap in funding between Wales and other parts of the UK. The Welsh Government has said that 11 per cent of the UK rail network is in Wales, but that since 2011 it has received only 1.5 per cent of the money spent on rail enhancements. It is also predicted 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 concludes that the decision of Virgin Media to relocate hundreds of jobs from Swansea to Manchester has brought home these concerns.

The cancellation of the electrification figure has saved the Government at least £433 million, though exact figures vary. The UK Government should work with the Welsh Government to identify and scope out cost-effective transport projects on which the money saved could be spent. Along with Network Rail, they should develop a revised route study for Wales and examine all options for improving rail connections in South Wales.

Options for the Swansea to Cardiff line

As it stands, the electrification of the Swansea to Cardiff route would not provide a significant improvement to journey times unless the line was straightened, allowing trains to operate at greater speeds. The cost and potential benefits of this work should be investigated.

A more radical approach to reducing lengthy journey times between Swansea and Cardiff is the Swansea Bay Metro: a proposed new route via Baglan that would nearly halve journey times from 55 minutes to half an hour, and improve connectivity in underserved locations along the route. This option should be explored in more detail, and if initial investigations indicate the proposal is viable, a full business case be developed.

Learning lessons

In June 2012 the predicted cost to upgrade the section of line between Cardiff and Swansea was, according to Welsh Government figures, £156 million. Yet by August 2016, the National Audit Office placed the likely cost at £433 million. Planning work and project management undertaken by Network Rail and the Department of Transport was superficial, and lacked detail in vital areas. Surveys did not provide an adequate picture of the work that would need to be undertaken. Network Rail had failed to anticipate which bridges along the route would need to be raised to accommodate the required electrical infrastructure. The Department of Transport did not develop a consolidated business case for the Great Western modernisation programme until a year after work had begun, and two years after new trains for the route had been procured.

Network Rail and the Department of Transport have both indicated that they are learning lessons from these failures and have introduced new approaches to planning work. They must demonstrate that these new processes are robust and minimise the risk of a repeat in future schemes. The Government must review the effectiveness of its new approach within 12 months and allow the National Audit Office to provide independent scrutiny of how the processes are operating.

Chair's comments

Publishing the report, Chair of the Committee, David T. C. Davies MP commented:

"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.

It is calculated that the cancellation of the rail electrification between Cardiff and Swansea has saved the Government hundreds of millions of pounds, and this money can’t simply go back in the pot. Wales cannot have the only stretch of the line not to be improved then see the money saved go towards Crossrail 2 or the Northern Powerhouse. The money saved must be spent here in Wales.

These decisions have a demonstrable economic cost to the areas affected. We have just seen Virgin Media jobs moved from Swansea to Manchester. When HS2 will see the journey time from Manchester to London slashed to only one hour eight minutes, while Swansea to London will be 2 hours, 45 minutes, it comes as no surprise."

Further information

Image: Creative Commons

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