The UK Government has been accused of discriminating against Wales after it emerged it was spending more on a new London railway station than it is prepared to spend on electrifying the main London to South Wales rail line.
The Department for Transport is shelling out a whopping £1.1bn to build a new train station at Tottenham Court Road as part of the hugely expensive Crossrail project, which will enable mainline trains to travel underground from west of London to Essex and Kent.
Rail experts have told the Western Mail the entire cost of electrifying the main rail line between London Paddington and Swansea would cost no more than building a new station at Tottenham Court Road – yet the UK Government is only prepared to pay for electrification as far as Cardiff.
We understand the UK Government’s current negotiating position is that in addition to electrifying the main line as far as Cardiff, it is prepared to pay for the electrification of the central Valleys lines that terminate at Aberdare, Treherbert, Rhymney and Merthyr Tydfil. Currently, however, it maintains it will not electrify the main line as far as Swansea, nor the lines to Maesteg and Ebbw Vale. It is also refusing to fund the electrification of the Vale of Glamorgan line beyond Barry to Bridgend, and has suggested the Welsh Government should pick up the total shortfall of an estimated £120m.
Professor Stuart Cole of the University of Glamorgan, widely regarded as Wales’ leading rail expert, said: “The cost of building a new mainline station for Crossrail beneath the existing Tottenham Court Road underground lines is as high as it is because a huge hole is having to be dug out and new wider tunnels created. It’s a hugely complicated engineering challenge. Although the Crossrail project is getting huge support from the UK Government, the fact is that cost benefit analyses show that electrifying rail lines in Wales would be more cost-effective in terms of the economic return on investment. Electrifying the rail lines to and in Wales will bring enormous benefits.”
Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards said: “This is another instance of the chronic under-investment by successive UK Governments in Wales’ transport infrastructure. It is a disgrace that the many billions of pounds being spent on the Crossrail project are regarded as a UK spend, when it’s obvious it is investment that will benefit just London and the south east of England.
“If it was regarded as an England-only spend, Wales would be entitled, we believe, to a Barnett consequential payment from the Treasury of around £1.9bn – more than enough to pay for the electrification projects Wales needs. It seems the UK Government is perfectly happy to spend billions of pounds on vanity projects in England, but when it comes to Wales it’s a different story.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “The Minister for Local Government and Communities has emphasised to the Secretary of State for Transport the importance of electrification of both the Valley Lines network and Great Western Main Line to Swansea. Outline business cases have been submitted to the Department for Transport and the detail is subject to further discussion. On the basis of benefit to cost ratios, we are confident that the case for electrifying both compares favourably with other railway investment decisions taken by the UK Government recently.
“By using electric trains to run from Swansea to Paddington, rather than the more expensive bi-mode trains that use both electricity and diesel, the cost savings are further enhanced when taking into account that the UK Government is currently looking to replace the InterCity train fleet. Discussions on how electrification can be delivered are ongoing and the Minister will continue to press the case for electrification. Funding for rail infrastructure is non-devolved and is wholly the financial responsibility of the UK Government.”
A spokesman for the UK Government’s Department for Transport said: “Electrification brings the greatest benefit when it is implemented on busy rail lines where older diesel trains need replacing, which is why the Government has committed to electrifying the line from London to Cardiff. The Government continues to work closely with the Welsh Government to consider the business case for electrification of further rail lines in South Wales.”