Money which should have been spent on Welsh rail electrification must be spent solely on Welsh transport schemes such as a radical £1bn Swansea Bay Metro proposal, MPs have demanded.
The Welsh Affairs Committee has released a report insisting that the “hundreds of millions of pounds” saved by not electrifying the route between Cardiff and Swansea should not be spent elsewhere in the UK.
Plans for the electrification of the Great Western Main Line between Cardiff and Swansea were scrapped in July last year in favour of bi-mode diesel and electric trains, which many rail experts have said are expensive and environmentally unfriendly.
Instead, the committee said projects such as straightening the rail lines between Cardiff and Swansea and plans for a £1bn Swansea Bay Metro offering faster journeys to Cardiff and links to Heathrow Airport should be considered for funding. The Swansea Bay Metro is a separate scheme to the South Wales Metro, which saw a major bidder pull out after partner Carillion collapsed in January.
The committee recommended the UK government and Network Rail should set up a working group with the Welsh government to develop a revised route study for Wales, considering several options for improving rail connections in the South Wales area.
The National Audit Office estimated the cost of electrifying the line from Cardiff to Swansea would be at least £433M, which the committee says the government has saved by cancelling the project.
Committee chair David T. C. Davies said although the failures of electrification in Wales were well known, focus must turn to improving the country’s transport systems after “decades of underinvestment”.
He added: “We must put an end to grand infrastructure projects promising much and delivering little.
“Wales cannot have the only stretch of the line not to be improved then see the money saved go towards Crossrail 2 or the Northern Powerhouse. The money saved must be spent here in Wales.”
The committee added that lessons must be learnt from the failure to electrify the Great Western line, and that future electrification schemes must prove they are value for money before getting the green light from government.
Rail Industry Association (RIA) technical director David Clarke said that despite government U-turns over electrification schemes, the method should still be considered for busy routes as it would bring multiple benefits.
“It is clear that electrification is environmentally friendlier, cheaper in the long term, quieter and creates less wear to track,” he added.
“The Government has set the industry a challenge to decarbonise by 2040. In order to achieve the goal the industry must have all possible solutions on the table, including electrifying intensively used routes where there are clear benefits of passengers, freight companies and the environment of doing so.”
The RIA is investigating how to bring down the costs associated with electrification schemes.
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport 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.
“Thanks to this investment passengers travelling to South Wales on the Great Western Mainline are already benefitting from modern faster trains with more space and better facilities like Wi Fi.
“We will respond to the report in due course.”
Network Rail has been contacted for comment.
Swansea Bay Metro
The £1bn proposal would see better rail links to and within Swansea Bay, slashing journey times to Cardiff by around half and linking Swansea Bay to London and Heathrow Airport in just over two hours.
A new line between Swansea and Baglan in Port Talbot would help reduce journey times from Swansea to Cardiff to 30 minutes by cutting out several other stations and a section where slow line speeds are enforced.
Cardiff University professor of practice in connectivity Mark Barry, who came up with the idea, said the proposal “may require some new bridges to replace a level crossing or two”.
According to the committee’s report, the Department for Transport said the plans were “feasible and could be attractive”, but warned against fragmentation of services to Swansea.
Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said the idea would need input from train operating companies, the supply chain and communities served by the railway.