The cancellation of rail electrification in South Wales Contents

4Investment in Welsh rail and other options for the Cardiff to Swansea route

Welsh Government view and investment in Welsh rail

40.Following the announcement that funding for electrification would be withdrawn, the Welsh Government Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, Ken Skates AM, wrote to Mr Grayling to say that “for the UK Government to announce the cancellation of this scheme at this stage and through the press, with no prior warning, was hugely disappointing”. He called for the funds which would have been provided to electrify the line to Swansea—which he said were estimated to be £700 million—to be ring-fenced for projects in Wales.63 Mr Skates’ press release also said that “although the Wales route area has around 11 per cent of the railway track, since 2011 it has only benefited from around 1.5 per cent of the money spent by the UK Government on rail enhancements”.64

41.The UK Government and Network Rail do not recognise the £700 million figure referred to by Mr Skates. They suggested that the saving was around the £433 million referred to in the National Audit Office report.65 Mr Skates told us the £700 million figure was from a BBC News article from July 2017, which quoted Professor Stuart Cole as saying that the cost could be £700 to £800 million.66 Giving evidence to us in November 2017, however, Professor Cole said that £450 to £500 million was “the generally accepted figure”.67

42.Furthermore, we received evidence that Wales could actually suffer detriment from the Government’s £55.7 billion flagship rail scheme, the new HS2 railway between London, the West Midlands and the North of England. Professor Stuart Cole told us that HS2 would be “a negative for south Wales because many other cities become a lot more attractive, not only in journey time, but in this very new, very smart technology”.68 A 2010 report by Greengauge 21, drawing on analysis by KPMG, suggested that HS2 could reduce employment growth in Wales by 21,000 jobs between 2007 and 2040.69 In addition, data from a further KPMG study obtained through a freedom of information request by BBC Newsnight in 2013 suggested that both Cardiff and Swansea would suffer a reduction in economic output as a result of HS2.70

43.We asked the Minister, Jo Johnson, whether he would consider ring-fencing the savings from cancelling electrification between Cardiff and Swansea, as the Welsh Government had suggested. He said that the Government were “always open to good investment proposals from any part of the country” and were looking in particular at proposals coming from Wales. He said that the Secretary of State for Transport had committed to work with the Welsh Government on a range of different options which would be worked up into business cases to see whether they passed the Department’s “strong value for money tests”.71

44.We have heard concerns about underinvestment in the Welsh railways. The Welsh Government told us that the Wales route area had around 11% of the railway track but in recent years had received only 1.5% of the money the UK Government has spent on rail improvement. There is clearly a case for Wales, with approximately 5% of the UK population, to receive a greater share of spending on rail. While figures vary, it is undeniable that the Government has saved at least £430 million by not electrifying the line between Cardiff and Swansea. In our view, there is a strong case for using this money for cost-effective transport projects in Wales. We encourage the UK Government to engage closely with the Welsh Government to identify and scope out cost-effective transport projects on which the money saved from the cancellation of electrification could be spent. It should set out a plan for this engagement in its response to our Report.

Options for the Swansea-Cardiff line

45.In light of the Government’s decision not to electrify the line between Cardiff and Swansea, we have heard a number of suggestions for alternative investment options for the Cardiff to Swansea route, which we consider below.

Straightening the track

46.As we have seen, a key factor in the cancellation of electrification was that the journey between Cardiff and Swansea could be made almost as quickly using bi-mode as electric trains. We were told that, in order for there to be a significant reduction in journey times on this route, the track would need to be straightened. Professor Stuart Cole, Emeritus Professor of Transport at the University of South Wales, said that if some of the bends in the track were straightened out

then you would start to progress to a reduction in journey time of 15 minutes, maybe more, along that route […] to get the maximum benefit for people in central and south-west Wales, there needs to be a straightening of the track, or maybe even part of it, so that that speed can go up to maybe 100, 110, 120 miles an hour for certain sections.72

Professor Cole said that the straightening would cost around £1 billion, on top of the £433 million required to electrify the track.73

47.Mark Hopwood, Managing Director of the Great Western Railway, said such projects were “very, very expensive”.74 He told us that a straightening of the track was “unlikely to have a payback in straight commercial terms for the railway, but I recognise it would add enormous value in the wider debate around Swansea and its accessibility”. He added that “ if you wanted to get the journey time from Swansea to London down to about two and a half hours that is the type of project that you would need to look at”.75

Swansea Bay Metro

48.An even more ambitious proposal came from Mark Barry, Professor of Practice in Connectivity, at Cardiff University, for what he described as a “Swansea Bay Metro”. Professor Barry summarised his proposal in these terms:

A radical ~£1Bn investment in rail links to and within Swansea Bay to deliver a major boost to the regional economy:

A move beyond a tactical argument about electrification to a more strategic discussion about the vision and future connectivity of Swansea Bay.76

49.A key part of Professor Barry’s proposal involves a “major new line route from Swansea to Baglan”, which would be in addition to the current loop via Neath. He explained why this new line would be beneficial:

Current journey times to Swansea from Cardiff (which are only 55km apart) are unnecessarily extended (at least 55 minutes) because of two key constraints. Firstly, the low line speed between Cardiff and Bridgend and secondly, the more challenging need for the main line to meander around to Neath and Skewen between Port Talbot and Swansea. As the crow flies Swansea and Port Talbot are only ~11km apart but rail journeys take over 20 minutes!77

The proposal also involved increasing line speeds between Cardiff and Bridgend to at least 100 miles per hour, which Professor Barry said “may require some new bridges to replace a level crossing or two”.78

50.We received submissions expressing support for a Swansea Bay Metro from Swansea City Council, Dr Dai Lloyd AM, and the large local employer Admiral Group PLC.79 We were told about the potential of the Swansea Bay City Deal to create 20,000 jobs and increase passenger demand.80

51.Brian Etheridge, from the Department for Transport, said that “on the face of it”, the proposal was “feasible and could be attractive”, but he warned about a number of possible obstacles:

From our perspective, we would worry about suddenly having a very fragmented service to Swansea. The downside is if that were the new station in Swansea going back out to stations like Llanelli, it would take even longer, or if you had two stations you would suddenly be disconnected. […] We have been conscious of a number of proposals that would effectively cut out Neath. At the moment, Neath and Swansea are two of the busiest stations there, so obviously it would be something in terms of the overall transport provision that we would be worried about.81

Professor Barry has, however, said that “some main line services [would] still route via Neath” in addition to opportunities for new links in Neath and Neath Valley.82

52.Mark Carne, Chief Executive of Network Rail, said that there was a “very formal process” for considering plans of this kind: the route studies. He said that these studies involved input from train operating companies, the supply chain and communities served by the railway. Mr Carne added that there was “a current route study for the Welsh railways and I would be very keen to ensure that these ideas are incorporated within that and studied appropriately”.83

53.Network Rail’s Welsh Route Study was published in March 2016.84 Since then, there have been a number of important developments, including the cancellation of electrification between Cardiff and Swansea, and the devolution of responsibility for the Wales and Borders franchise to the Welsh Government.85

54.In light of recent developments, including the cancellation of electrification and the devolution of some responsibilities to the Welsh Government, we recommend that the UK Government, Network Rail and the Welsh Government commit to developing a revised route study for Wales over the next 12 months. This revised study should examine all options for improving the South Wales railway. Before committing to any proposals, it will be important to ensure that they are cost effective, offer good value for the public purse and draw on lessons learned from the Great Western Programme.

55.If the track between Cardiff and Swansea were to be straightened to enable trains to run at increased speeds, the case for electrification of this route could be strengthened. We encourage the UK and Welsh Governments to work with Network Rail to explore the viability of this option. The outcome of this work can then inform the route study process.

56.We were interested in the proposal by Professor Mark Barry for a Swansea Bay Metro, particularly in light of the increased demand that may result from the Swansea Bay City Deal. This idea is still at an early stage, but merits further exploration. We recommend that the Department for Transport and Network Rail engage with the Welsh Government and establish a working group to explore the options in more detail. This group should report back by the end of 2018. If the group considers the proposal viable, it should then seek to develop a business case for taking the work forward.

57.Wales clearly receives less than its population share of investment in rail infrastructure. The new rail franchise will be procured and answerable to the Welsh Government and Network Rail now operates via a Wales ‘Route’. To ensure fairer funding and a more coherent framework for decision and policy making, we recommend that the UK Government should assess, and report back to us on, the feasibility of devolving responsibility for rail infrastructure to the National Assembly for Wales.

New technologies

58.The Department for Transport told us that the UK Government expected “new battery technologies and alternative fuels to drive further innovation in the rolling sector over the next decade and become the principal energy source on the UK rail network”.86 The Department subsequently sent us some examples of where these technologies were being deployed, both in the UK and internationally.87 Brian Etheridge, the Department’s Director of Network Services, said that a number of train operating companies were “actively looking” at the new technologies. He said that it was “not at all inconceivable to think of a train going for quite a bit of its journey either on diesel or electric and following on smaller parts with battery top-ups”.88

59.Roger Ford, Industry and Technology Editor at Modern Railways magazine, agreed that battery technology could play a role in the future. He said that “you can have a branch line that is 30 miles long; you can have a little battery train moving up and down all day, recharging at each point”.89 He was more sceptical about the prospects of using this technology for faster mainline services.90 David Clarke, from the Railway Industry Association, agreed. He said that at the moment hydrogen fuel cell trains were “most suitable for regional traffic” but that the technology was “not yet up to operating an intercity train”.91

60.We were interested to hear about the potential opportunities offered by battery and hydrogen powered trains. While they may not be suitable for large, high speed mainline services, they may work well on the smaller lines that run through rural Wales. As these technologies come on stream, we believe that Wales should be considered as a prime candidate for their early introduction. As part of the route study process, the UK and Welsh Governments and Network Rail should begin to consider where battery and hydrogen trains might be introduced. If battery and hydrogen trains are not suitable for the Cardiff-Swansea mainline, this makes the case for electrification as the environmentally friendly option.

64 As above. See also CAN 0030 [Welsh Government].

65 Q108, 177

67 Q44

68 Q50

69 Greengauge 21, Consequences for employment and economic growth, 31 January 2010, p 25, Table 5

71 Q176

72 Q30

73 Qq5–6

74 Q110

75 Q112

76 CAN 0023, Appendix A

77 Mark Barry (CAN0023) Appendix A

78 Mark Barry (CAN0023) Appendix A

79 Swansea Council (CAN0024), Dr Dai Lloyd (CAN0025), Admiral Group PLC (CAN0026)

80 As above

81 Qq 169–70

82 Mark Barry (CAN0023) Appendix A

83 Q121

84 Network Rail, Welsh Route Study, March 2016

85 Department for Transport press notice, “Welsh rail services set to be devolved following historic agreement”, 28 February 2018

86 Department for Transport (CAN0017) para v

87 Letter from Jo Johnson MP to David T. C. Davies MP, 30 January 2018 (DEP2018–0084)

88 Q174

89 Q42

90 Q43

91 Q120

Published: 21 May 2018