Thursday, 20 July 2017

Rail electrification: Mrs May to reverse another coalition policy

Wales Online is reporting that the government is to stop funding for the Great Western rail electrification west of Cardiff. It seems that Wales is being made to pay for the engineering misjudgements which caused the cost of electrification in England to overrun. Note that neither has there been an announcement in the House of Commons, nor has there been any indication to the Swansea City council leaders who have been in discussion with government ministers over the Conservatives' city deal. The city deal itself must be under threat from withdrawal of business interest which would have been attracted by the electrification project.

Wales' economy minister Ken Skates has been on the radio protesting that running diesel-only from Cardiff to Swansea maintains a contribution to pollution. He could also have pointed out that electric trains are more reliable than diesel-powered sets. There must be some doubt about the extra complication of bimodal power units. Electrification would have enabled the ageing commuter sets to be replaced as well as improving the long-distance service.

In the wider context, the shortage of modern diesel units already noted at least three years ago is going to be aggravated. Great Western is not the only electrification to be curtailed it seems. Train operators will have run down orders for new diesel units in the expectation that the electrification programme launched by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and confirmed (admittedly at a slower pace) by the Conservatives when they returned with an absolute majority in 2015 would proceed.

The signals that this decision sends out are that Brexit is going to reduce industrial and commercial activity outside the London travel-to-work area, and that Wales is to be written off. A Liberal Democrat initiative which reversed years of Labour neglect in Westminster is to be set aside; Welsh Labour protests - what will Corbyn's Labour nationally say?

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