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Hammond: little spark

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Philip Hammond, picture by Amplified2010, Creative Commons, July 2009, the then transport secretary, Andrew Adonis, announced the electrification of the 308 kilometre section of the Great Western Main Line from London to Swansea, along with ‘commuter’ offshoots to Bristol, Oxford, and Newbury, with preparatory work beginning  “immediately”. But the scheme was put under review soon after formation of the May 2010 coalition government. The new transport secretary Philip Hammond’s statement of 25 November 2010 avoided any mention of electrification west of Didcot.

Swansea is the second largest city in Wales, with a population of over 200,000. Nevertheless, in March 2011, Mr Hammond confirmed suspicions that it was no longer part of the electrification, which he said would only extend from Paddington to Cardiff (234 kilometres). The justification offered was that electric trains on the London to Cardiff section would provide a time saving of about 20 minutes, but not much saving beyond Cardiff.

At present, the diesel London to Cardiff intercity service is generally half-hourly, with half of those trains continuing to Swansea. So, considering the 2011 London to Cardiff/Swansea passenger services as a distinct group, the Cardiff-only scheme converts 76% of route mileage, and 88% of vehicle mileage, to electric traction. However, there are other services between Swansea and Cardiff that could benefit from electrification, and it’s generally more expensive to undertake such projects separately at a later date.

Mr Hammond announced that the Hitachi Intercity Express Programme ‘Super Express’ trains would be procured in electric and electro-diesel (‘bi-mode’) versions for Great Western Main Line into south Wales. A number of Intercity 125s would continue to operate the Great Western’s line to Devon and Cornwall. The ‘bi-mode’ IEP trains would allow continuation of  ‘through’ London-to-Swansea services (i.e., no need for passengers to change train), without the (small) time penalty associated with a change from electric to diesel locomotive.

Not much detail have been given as to the composition of the Hitachi Super Express fleet. The IEP programme is hardly recognisable from early 2009, when the supposedly “British led” Agility Trains consortium was named as preferred bidder by the Department for Transport – with a design that failed to meet requirements that the Department had previously deemed “essential”  (e.g., weight).

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  1. […] Express Programme remains part of the government’s strategy. Its March 2011 decision to remove Swansea from Great Western electrification may have been driven by the need to justify continuing with […]

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