High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Cardiff Business Partnership (HSR 188)

Given plans for High Speed 2, which will bring every major English and Scottish City at least 30 minutes closer to London (for example Manchester to London in one hour 15 minutes) then an upgrade to the Great Western Mainline (GWML) is essential if Cardiff is to remain competitive in both UK and European terms. This is especially important given that Greengauge21/KPMG found that HS2 would have a negative impact on the Welsh economy, thereby restricting Cardiff's capacity to address Wales' deteriorating GVA/capita Vs the UK average.

The Cardiff City Region, home to 1.4 million people, half the Welsh population, has the potential to transform Welsh economic performance. Cardiff itself contains a Leading UK Russell Group University; has a diversifying employment base, has achieved amongst the largest growth in the private sector in UK and now has ~80,000 inward commuters in a total work force of nearly 200,000 or one third of the entire city region workforce.

From a business perspective transport connectivity is crucial—especially inter and intra regional transport. For example, Admiral Insurance's (one of Wales' leading private sector companies) recent statements as regards public transport provide a stark warning:

—  Admiral would not locate in Cardiff today with >2 hour travel time to London.

—  Improved connectivity to Heathrow maybe needed to maintain a Cardiff HQ in the long term.

In March 2011, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced that the GWML would be electrified as far as Cardiff; returning Cardiff-Paddington journey times to those that existed in 1980, at 1 hour 45 minutes. That work will be completed by 2017 alongside other upgrades including introduction of ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) and a fleet of new Inter City Express Programme (IEP) trains. In May 2011, First Great Western (FGW) announced their intention not to take up the option to extend their franchise beyond 2013, bringing forward the tendering process for a longer term and perhaps more strategic arrangement.

The Cardiff Business Partnership believes that the electrification programme and franchising process should be a catalyst for the implementation of long term and incremental upgrade of the Great Western Corridor. This position acknowledges that whilst a dedicated new high-speed line is desirable, it would be at least 25 years before such a scheme could be delivered at a cost of over £15 billion. A pragmatic approach would see a series of ongoing upgrades to the existing rail corridor, with electrification as the foundation that can deliver significant benefits in terms of capacity, journey times and Heathrow access by 2025 which collectively will help provide a stimulus to the Welsh economy. A deliverable target is:

—  Cardiff to London journey times of less than 80 minutes at least twice an hour.

—  Cardiff to Heathrow journey times of less than 90 minutes at least twice an hour.

Figure 1


It is anticipated that the above performance criteria can be delivered from a range of enhancements to both infrastructure and service patterns, as suggested in the following sections.


In the first instance, for inclusion in CP5 (Network Rail's 2015-19 planning period), a new western link should be constructed to Heathrow from the GWML. BAA recently cancelled plans for Airtrack, which would have linked Heathrow Terminal 5 to the Staines-Windsor commuter line from Reading (in blue below). A far better option for Swindon, Bristol, Cardiff and the Thames Valley is to see a new western route into Terminal 5 to link up with the existing Heathrow express line as shown in red below (from NR GW Route Utilisation Strategy). This would allow a Heathrow express service to operate from Reading to serve passengers from South Wales and South West England.

Figure 2


The HS2 focussed exploration of Heathrow access should be extended to include the GWML so that direct services could eventually run to a new HSR station at Heathrow from Cardiff and Bristol.

As the DfT found in its 2002 review of UK airport capacity, "Future Airport Capacity in the UK", Wales and SW England has the greatest need for better access to Heathrow than any other region in the UK (outside the SE England). The study found the leakage of passengers to other regions, mainly South East England Airports and specifically Heathrow, was about 65% for both Wales and South West England, the highest in the UK. For each region, the total annual trips were estimated at 3.4 million and 7.2 million respectively. That was 10.6 million in total, with about 6.5 million using airports in the SE England and in particular, Heathrow. Most of these Heathrow journeys are by car indicating a latent demand for better Great Western Main Line connectivity to Heathrow. The DfT reports also made some other relevant statements:

"… it does appear that Wales is suffering in attracting inward investment because it does not offer a wide range of air services to European centres."

"It is important for Wales to maintain access to key London airports, especially Heathrow and Gatwick. Even if Cardiff was to provide a much wider range of services and frequencies than it currently offers, it is likely that a large number of Welsh air passengers would continue to use airports in the South East of England."

"Their [South East England airports] route networks especially for long haul, will continue to be wider than the route networks offered by regional airports. Links to London are also important, particularly for the business community."

There are also at least 10 return flights per day from Cardiff and Bristol airports to Schipol. Better access to Heathrow could deliver a significant modal shift and reduce the need for this number of short haul flights and resulting CO2 emissions.

This position should be set against a situation in which Wales continues to be disadvantaged by competitive transport investment elsewhere in the UK and a significant deterioration in services from Cardiff Airport since 2002.


Determine the theoretical maximum speed of the GWML based on the curvature of the current alignment, etc.

Then, identify sections of track that may restrict this theoretical maximum speed (> 125 mph) as a result of constraints in curvature, junctions, signalling, etc. Then suggest and scope works (re-alignment, 4-tracking, junctions, signalling, ballast, etc) and costs to address. For example:

—  Wootton Bassett grade separated junction.

—  4-tracking of Didcot to Wootton Basset and perhaps Bristol Parkway.

—  A new Severn Crossing.

—  New/upgraded section(s) of the South Wales main line (eg Newport by-pass.

—  Estimate costs of each of the incremental infrastructure upgrades to achieve sustained higher speed of >140mph (track, ballast, signalling, gantries, other civils, safety, etc).

Assess impact of speed upgrades on route pathways (eg between Bristol Parkway and Yate Junction for X-country services to the Midlands) and the need for 4-tracking to accommodate different service patterns and traffic speeds.

Explore different stopping patterns (eg less stops between Cardiff and London), schedules, etc, and their potential impact on capacity, operational costs, passenger revenues and journey times; also review impact on freight usage.

One of the most congested sections of the GWML is actually between London and Reading (as shown below from Network Rail's Great Western Route Utilisation Strategy). If a new line is built, one section could be from London via Heathrow to just west of Reading where it can connect to the existing GWML. This should be included in the consideration of HSR rail access to Heathrow as set out in plans for HS2.

Figure 3


Given the ~145 miles distance between Cardiff and Paddington, an 80-minute journey would require an average speed of approximately 109 mph. As a comparator, the WCML service between Manchester Piccadilly and Euston, as a result of its £9 billion upgrade, now provides a 1 hour 58 minute service for the 185 mile journey, at an average speed of ~95 mph (on a line with a max running speed of 125 mph). Even achieving this average speed on the GWML between Cardiff and Paddington, would deliver a journey time of approximately 90 minutes.


—  What maximum speed will be specified for the new inter-city trains to be procured as part of the IEP programme? Given the potential for the track to cope with speeds of >140mph then it would be prudent to specify >140 mph.

—  What is the freight impact (can't run >140 mph trains if <80mph freight train in the way) especially between Didcot and Bristol with only two tracks; will this strengthen the case for further 4-tracking?

—  Electrification to Swansea and the Valleys.

—  Electrification of the diversionary route via Kemble and to Birmingham from Bristol and Cardiff up both sides of the Severn at the same time via Cheltenham and Gloucester).

—  In terms of "termination" stations in South Wales, aside from Cardiff Central, Swansea and Newport, consideration should be given to: Pontypridd, Cardiff Airport (new on site-station) and Swansea Parkway (new station). The franchise tendering process for First Great Western and Arriva Trains Wales services presents an opportunity to explore these options more fully.

—  In addition to the improvements to the GWML, there is also the potential to provide more effective and seamless connectivity to both HS1, HS2 and Crossrail.

—  As part of HS2, a new interchange is proposed at Old Oak Common in West London to enable transfer between the GWML, HS2 and Crossrail. A direct link is also proposed from HS2 to HS1 to provide through services for all Northern and Scottish cities. A link should also be provided from the GWML so that through trains can access HS1 and the Channel Tunnel and European destinations from Wales and SW England. If not, every other major UK city will have this capabilitybut not Cardiff and Bristol.

—  Would it be possible to run the occasional Intercity express onto/into Crossrail and into central London?


Given plans for major upgrades on the GWML corridor in the next 10 years, the introduction of the IEP trains and the upcoming tendering process for the FGW Franchise, there is now an opportunity to develop a more strategic vision for this route. This would place the economic needs and expectations of the major cities along the GW Corridor at the heart of the review and recognise the importance of the Great Western Line to the Welsh Economy.

It is therefore recommended, that a comprehensive and strategic, Great Western Corridor study is undertaken to examine:

—  The costs, practicality and benefits of a range of GWML infrastructure upgrades that will contribute to a reversal in the decline in Wales GVA/capita Vs the UK average, by achieving the following performance objectives.

—  Cardiff to London Journey times of less than 80 minutes at least twice an hour.

—  Cardiff to Heathrow journey times of less than 90 minutes at least twice an hour.

—  Changes to TOC franchise and service patterns should be explored if they can also contribute to achieving the above targets.

—  Improved access to Heathrow from the GWML(west).

—  Access and interchange with HS1/HS2 services and the running direct service from GWML to HS1.

—  Access and interchange with Crossrail.

—  Further electrification of the network to Swansea, Plymouth and beyond.

—  Identity potential funding sources (these could include direct government capital investment, TOC contribution, Local Authority borrowing, other transport providers, etc).

The objective is to develop a clear business case, with a focus on the wider economic benefits, for a programme of incremental upgrades to the GWML. This work should be undertaken on the same basis as the work undertaken to date by the DfT in developing the business case for HS2.

June 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011