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Axed electrification threatens to derail South Wales Metro

Electrification

Plans for the South Wales Metro network could be jeopardised by the government’s decision to axe electrification in the region, according to the head of Transport for Wales. 

Transport for Wales chief executive James Price said the Department for Transport’s cancellation of the upgrade between Swansea and Cardiff would make it more difficult to link Ebbw Vale and Maesteg on the South Wales Metro. 

The line is to run through Cardiff Central station and Bridgend along the stretch of the Great Western Mainline that was set to be electrified before the project was scrapped by transport secretary Chris Grayling last year due to rising costs. 

“It will give us challenges,” he told New Civil Engineer.

“We will deliver what politicians ask us to deliver, but Welsh ministers and politicians are disappointed [about the decision]. There’s a risk of communities feeling disconnected.”

It will be harder to upgrade the Maesteg line with electrically powered stock, and capacity issues on the mainline could affect the ability to get four trains an hour to Ebbw Vale.

The project was canned in July last year in favour of bi-mode diesel and electric trains, which many rail experts have said are expensive and environmentally unfriendly. 

The Department for Transport (DfT) denied that the decision would affect the metro plans.

A DfT spokesperson said: “We are investing in the most significant upgrade of our rail network since Victorian times to improve journeys for passengers across the country, including in South Wales.

“This government is committed to providing £125M toward the cost of upgrading the Valley lines.

“Decisions on the scope of electrification are for Welsh Government to take. Not electrifying the Cardiff to Bridgend line does not impact on the ability of the Welsh Government to deliver on the South Wales metro project.”

MPs’ calls to revive the scrapped south Wales project have been strengthened by a transport body saying it could be carried out at a third of the estimated cost. 

Lobbying body Campaign to Electrify Britain’s Railway (CEBR) said the Swansea to Cardiff line could be electrified for around a third of the current estimate of around £3M per kilometre.

It comes after the Commons transport select committee threw its weight behind reviving electrification of the Great Western Mainline. The DfT has not clarified its stance on the scheme. 

Transport for Wales has pledged an extra 285 services every weekday across Wales from 2023, with Ebbw Vale set to benefit. 

KeolisAmey revealed its plans for the £5bn Wales and Borders franchise last month. These includes the construction of the metro. 

Cardiff will get four new stations – at Loudoun Square, Crwys Road, the Flourish and Gabalfa – as part of the plans, and  £738M will be invested to transform the Core Valley Lines. This will involve electrifying 172km of track and upgrading infrastructure in order to run metro services.  

Stations and overhead cabling will be powered by 100% renewable energy, with at least 50% sourced from Wales.

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