Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Is Electrification Really Best For West Wales

My first reaction to the decision for electrification of the main line to stop at Cardiff was, like many in West Wales, one of bitter disappointment.

Once again it feels like Wales's second city was slipping further behind Cardiff.

But once I had read the facts I could not help feeling that we may be campaigning for the wrong thing.

The cost of the Cardiff to Swansea part of the Electrification project would be about £150m - £200m.

And what time saving would we see for this investment?


It turns out that the "geometry of the line" is such that trains could not travel any faster even with electrification.

It is therefore no wonder that it became difficult to justify the electrification on business grounds.

If electrification was to be carried out it is unlikely that further investment would be forthcoming to sort out the other issues which obviously exist so it is important we get what we need, which might not be the same as what Cardiff has got.

Therefore I feel our efforts would be better spent lobbying for the track to be upgraded in a way which will reduce journey times from Cardiff to Swansea.

The other thing holding us back is the relatively low usage between Swansea an Cardiff.  This does not surprise me as when I have used the train it has always been very quiet for that part of the journey.  But this is due the the fact that the train takes almost 50% longer than driving and only goes once per hour for most of the day.

If additional services were put on which went direct from Swansea to Cardiff they would prove more popular as this would cut out 3 stations and immediately save 10 mins with no further investment.  I appreciate that this would seem hard on Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend but they would not lose any services.

Shorter journey times and more direct trains would increase usage and help build the business case for future electrification but first we need to give careful consideration as to whether that is what we really need.


  1. The problem with the geometry of the line is rather larger-scale than you seem to be implying. Train journey times are fairly competitive between Cardiff and Port Talbot — there's still room for improvement, but this section is fairly reasonable. The problem comes when you compare the Port Talbot to Swansea section: a quick drive along Fabian Way, compared with a slow twisty tour of Neath and Landore, ending up at a rather peripheral station at High Street, nowhere near the bus station. It's even worse if you want to continue on into Dyfed, as you then crawl back out to Landore before turning west onto a shockingly low-spec line.

    Fixing the railway network in Swansea is the key to getting reasonable journey times between Swansea and anywhere else. It's certainly not cheap, but what's needed looks something like this.

  2. I have looked at your map and I think it seems like a very good idea. A large part of the problem is the location of the current station and a new Station in the new SA1 area or nearby would seem far more suitable going forward.
    It would also mean that people coming to Swansea would have a fantastic view of the Bay as they approach the city which cant be bad for our image.