The cancellation of rail electrification in South Wales Contents

3Bi-mode trains

28.The Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Chris Grayling MP, when announcing the cancellation of electrification between Cardiff and Swansea, stated that the Government would only “electrify lines where it provides a genuine benefit to passengers which cannot be achieved through other technologies”.48 In the case of rail travel between Cardiff and Swansea, the Government has stated that many of the benefits of electrification can be achieved by the introduction of new bi-mode trains. Each of the new Intercity Express bi-mode trains would deliver 130 additional seats, faster journey times and “improved connectivity from South Wales to London”. Mr Grayling said, on this basis, that electrification west of Cardiff was no longer necessary.49

Journey times

29.The evidence we heard suggested that using bi-mode trains in diesel mode between Swansea and Cardiff would improve journey times to a similar extent as using electric trains.50 Journeys between Swansea and London with the new bi-mode trains would be significantly faster than with the old diesel trains—with a saving of around 15 minutes—but these savings would be achieved almost entirely between Cardiff and London. We heard that there might be a minor time saving because of the trains’ ability to accelerate and decelerate more quickly but that the layout of the track between Cardiff and Swansea meant that there was little scope for an increase in speed. These limitations would still apply even if the plan to electrify the line had gone ahead and electric trains were used on this route. Mark Hopwood, the Managing Director of the Great Western Railway, set out some of the factors preventing an increase in speeds on the line between Cardiff and Swansea:

the nature of the track, the curvature and, therefore, the line speed. The calling pattern of the train: we could run non-stop trains between all sorts of places but often the stations intermediately are very important for those passengers and important revenue wise. The signalling system at the moment on that route would not support trains running beyond 125, but the train we are taking delivery of from Hitachi is designed to travel at up to 140 miles an hour.51

Other factors

30.While bi-mode trains may be able to deliver similar journey times to purely electric trains, we heard mixed views about their wider effectiveness. Roger Ford, Industry and Technology Editor at Modern Railways Magazine, warned us not to get “too hung up about journey time reductions”.52 In his written evidence, he raised a number of concerns about the bi-mode trains, describing them as a “sub-optimal solution”, and said that in both diesel and electric modes performance was “degraded […] by either excessive weight or lack of power”.53

31.The manufacturer, Hitachi Rail Europe, was, unsurprisingly, more positive about the performance of the trains, describing them as “lighter, cleaner and greener” than the existing diesel models. It added that they weighed only 5% more than electric-only models, meaning that there would be “no impact to performance”.54

Environmental impact

32.There were particular concerns about the environmental consequences of the decision to cancel electrification, given that bi-mode trains would be operating with diesel engines between Swansea and Cardiff.55 Railfuture Cymru/Wales, which campaigns for improved rail services, said that “cancelling a progressive electrification policy” was “not consistent with UK government policy to cease the production of diesel and petrol fuelled cars”.56

33.A report published by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in January 2018, whilst noting the flexibility of bi-mode trains, warned that their emissions were increased when they operated in diesel mode. It recommended that the DfT “conduct a series of trials on our existing diesel railway rolling stock, the new bi-mode trains and in major stations, to understand the level and effect exposure of pollutants has on our commuters and railway workers”.57

34.One of the claims made for the Intercity Express bi-mode trains is that even in diesel mode they produce significantly fewer emissions than the old diesel ones. Their manufacturer, Hitachi Rail Europe, stated that the diesel engines “cut harmful emissions (PM10 [particulate matter] and [nitrous oxide]) by up to 90% compared to existing trains”.58 The Minister, Jo Johnson, pointed to the “state of the art catalytic converters”, which he said converted nitrogen oxides into water. He argued that the bi-mode trains were “compliant with the most demanding and up to date standards in terms of emissions” and were “not the heavily polluting diesels of yore.”59

35.Last year, the Government announced its intention to end the sale of all new conventional petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2040.60 In a speech in February 2018, Jo Johnson announced the Government’s intention to take all diesel-only trains off the railway by 2040.61

36.Our colleagues on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees recently published a Report on Improving Air Quality, which described air pollution as “a national health emergency”. Their Report said that a “step change in Government policy” was needed “to protect the public from poisonous air”.62


37.We accept that, because of the layout of the Cardiff to Swansea line, electric trains would not have offered a significant saving in journey times over bi-modes. There are, however, a number of other advantages to electrification besides journey times, including environmental benefits. In Chapter 4, we explore the possibility of an electrified Metro system, which could also bring environmental benefits associated with electrification. We will also consider other possible changes to the track and route that could reduce journey times between Cardiff and Swansea.

38.The new Intercity Express bi-mode trains, even when running in diesel mode, will undoubtedly produce fewer emissions than the purely diesel trains they are replacing. It is, nevertheless, inevitable that there still will be some pollution when they run their diesel engines on the Cardiff to Swansea stretch of the line. Given serious concerns raised about air pollution, it is important that the Government does everything it can to reduce emissions. We recommend that the UK Government and the rail industry carefully monitor the emissions from the Intercity Express trains on the route between Cardiff and Swansea, and publish the results on a six-monthly basis.

39.Using the results of this monitoring, the UK Government and the industry should identify ways in which the emissions from the Intercity Express trains can be reduced further. We would expect to see clear evidence of emissions being reduced. The UK Government should also use the results of its monitoring to inform its future strategy on the use of diesel. It should explore whether, if diesel cars and vans and diesel-only trains are to be phased out by 2040, there is also a case for ending the use of diesel engines on bi-mode trains.

48 Department for Transport press release, “Rail update: bi-mode train technology”, 20 July 2017

49 Department for Transport press release, “Rail update: bi-mode train technology”, 20 July 2017

50 Q25, 72

51 Q114

52 Q32

53 Roger Ford (CAN0016) para 2.1

54 Hitachi Rail Europe (CAN0014)

55 See, for example, Timothy Rickman (CAN 0008)

56 Railfuture Cymru/Wales (CAN0010)

57 Institute of Mechanical Engineers, A breath of fresh air: new solutions to reduce transport emissions, January 2018, p 5

58 Hitachi Rail Europe (CAN0014)

59 Q166

60 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Department for Transport, UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations, July 2017, para 6

61 Department for Transport, speech by Joseph Johnson MP on a cleaner, greener railway, 12 February 2018

62 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Environmental Audit, Health and Social Care, and Transport Committees, Improving Air Quality, First Joint Report of Session 2017–18, HC 433, para 11

Published: 21 May 2018