Cardiff to Swansea rail electrification

Local train and intercity train at Cardiff Central Station 

Trains at Cardiff Central Station. Photo: Chris Brown, Cardiff Friends of the Earth

In September 2011 the coalition government confirmed it would only electrify the Great Western main line between Cardiff and London by about 2017. They said that the business case did not support electrification to Swansea.

The Department for Transport (DfT) claim that the £62m cost of electrification from Cardiff to Swansea would create just 10p in benefits for every £1 invested. Transport projects are unlikely to be funded unless their benefits are at least twice the cost of the work.

The DfT said it "could not identify more than one train per hour becoming an electric train" between Cardiff and Swansea. This train is the hourly London to Swansea service, which increases to two trains per hour in the morning and evening peaks.

The DfT added "Further ways in which to improve the case for electrification to Swansea were looked at, by examining whether other diesel services on this section could be converted to electric operation. However, significant changes were needed that would have required passengers to change trains, sometimes more often than once. The alternatives would also have increased train crew and rolling stock requirements."

The DfT business case assumes that new hybrid trains powered by both electricity and diesel for London-Swansea services would be just as fast as electric trains west of Cardiff, and "consequently there would be no passenger benefits from electrification between Cardiff and Swansea". This is nonsense. Electric trains would be:

  • Faster.
  • Less polluting
  • Quieter
  • Cheaper.

Their business case missed:

  • Heavy freight trains from the Port Talbot steelworks. Port Talbot steelworks is one of the biggest industrial destinations and origins for freight trains in Britain. Network Rail says that 15 percent of the UK’s rail freight passes through Cardiff. Deutsche Bahn which operates many freight trains supports the electrification to Swansea.
  • Many existing and future local passenger services. The hourly (soon to become to half-hourly) service between Maesteg and Cardiff could switch from diesel to electric by extending the power line along the single-track Bridgend-Maesteg branch.
  • The local train every two hours between Cardiff and Swansea.
  • Rail experts also have argued for a frequent service linking Swansea to Bath.
  • The “spark effect” which boosts rail passenger numbers after electrification of a rail line. This meant the electrification of the line to Swansea was not credited with reducing traffic on the M4 and other roads.

The DfT’s view of a lightly used railway west of Cardiff contrasts with the Network Rail's 2008 Route Utilisation Strategy. This claims that Cardiff to Bridgend is a frequently used line where train capacity is scarce. It also implies there is too little capacity on the line to let trains to call at additional stations, such as at Brackla and St Fagans.

Prof Stuart Cole, of the University of Glamorgan Business School, said Swansea should have four passenger trains per hour after electrification west of Cardiff. This would be one to London, one to Cardiff calling at all stations, and two calling at the main stations between Cardiff and Bath.

He said that the extra and faster services would encourage people to transfer from cars to trains "With the right kinds of marketing and pricing, those trains can be justified in terms of the numbers of passengers."

He accused the DfT of distorting the business case by treating Cardiff-Swansea as a separate project from the rest of the Great Western electrification. He claimed that if the DfT had assessed the case for London to Swansea as a whole, the benefits would have been £1.90 per £1 invested.

He added that the analysis would be improved further if European convergence funding was used to pay for up to half of the electrification cost to the west of Cardiff.

The DfT said that the hybrid trains would offer south Wales passengers a more resilient service when the Severn Tunnel closed for maintenance. The diesel function would allow the trains to divert along non-electrified lines via Gloucester.

The Welsh Government has said it is committed to electrification through to Swansea.

Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan MP, said that the UK Government was working with the Welsh Government on developing a business case for electrifying the Valley Lines.

Cardiff Friends of the Earth supports the extension of rail electrification not only between Cardiff and Swansea, but also all of the Valley Lines and the line west from Swansea to Fishguard. Not only would this create many jobs, it would cut transport emissions and kick-start the local economies beyond the Cardiff to Bristol corridor.

Find out the benefits of Welsh rail electrification.