Business and union leaders hit out over electrification halt. Conflicting views on future of trains in south Wales by Tim Chapman

By Tim Chapman in Transport

Last week, Welsh business and union leaders expressed disappointment at the UK Government’s decision not to electrify the Great Western main line in Wales.

The route takes in Newport, Cardiff, Bridgend and Swansea.

Wales TUC General Secretary Martin Mansfield claimed the decision showed the UK Government was turning its back on the Welsh economy.

“First, they went back on the promise to electrify the Valley lines, and the decision to ditch their pledge to Swansea is a fresh insult to the people of Wales.

“If work had started at the Swansea end, there is no way they’d have turned off the money before electrification had reached Reading.

“Why do UK Ministers think it’s acceptable for Wales to be denied funding and to get a second-rate service?”

Vale MP and Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns, stated that a leap in technology was behind the decision and a new ‘service hub’ would be a benefit to Swansea.

He explained: “The latest technology allows us to bring the most modern trains in the world to Swansea at a much earlier stage than we had predicted.

“They are based on the Japanese bullet trains and will be maintained in Swansea, where the service hub will be located. This is a clear commitment to the area and its future.

“There’s little sense in applying old technology when we have a far superior option available to us. I am delighted that passengers to and from Swansea will soon be enjoying some of the most modern trains in the world, with a higher capacity, better comfort, and quicker travel times.

“It would be nonsensical for us as a Government to install old technology when these, the most modern trains in the world, will be taking 15 minutes off the journey time.”

Local rail enthusiast Mike Wilcock provided The GEM with an image of one of the new trains.

He said that the introduction of the trains, which are powered by both electricity or an on-board diesel engine, meant electrification wasn’t required.

It would just mean switching to the diesel engine when the train sets off from Cardiff to Swansea.

Mike said: “The new trains don’t need electrification. The trains are bi-mode and built by Hitachi.

“They can be run on diesel power, too, so there is no need for power lines to Swansea through Bridgend. They’ve already been running to Swansea for six months.”

Electrification requires a pantograph system in which the train gets electricity from the cables above it.

Mike added: “It would cost millions (to electrify the line to Swansea) because some bridges would have to be lifted – such as at Pontyclun – so the pantograph could operate.

“Electrification would mean major inconvenience to motorists because roads would need to be closed as bridges are lifted to take account of the catenary (flexible wiring on a curve).

“Some Cardiff city centre bridges were closed for months.

Sub-stations along the line would also have been built to feed the power lines, and every few hundred metres, a gantry would be needed to hang the wires for the power lines to feed the trains.”

In the next five to 10 years, Mike believes trains could become battery-powered, rather than diesel-powered.

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