South Wales Electrification and Economic Reality

The proposed electrification of the South Wales Valleys will use refurbished rolling stock cascaded from other operators rather than brand-new trains. But Plaid Cymru are not impressed.

“I’m aware that old trains can be made to look good through refurbishment, but they would still be 30-plus-year-old trains and there is a limit to the refurbishments,” she said. “Why shouldn’t people of the Valleys expect – and have – the best?”

Such political grandstanding ignores the fact that regional electrification schemes only make economic sense when it doesn’t involve paying for both wiring the route and buying expensive new rolling stock at the same time. It’s how the West Yorkshire electrification from Leeds to Bradford, Ilkley and Skipton could be justified. It started out with secondhand units from London with about ten years life left in them. Only once those trains came to the end of their economic lives was it possible to justify a fleet of brand-new stock.

Are Welsh Nationalists still proposing a north-south rail link within Wales that avoids passengers having to travel through England?

I remember a proposal many years ago for a route using the trackbeds of long-abandoned branch lines to create route linking North and South Wales via Merthyr, Moat Lane, Corwen and Denbigh. A political vanity project if there ever was one, running through mountainous and sparsely-populated territory with likely journey times far longer than the perfectly good existing route that runs along the English side of the border.

I don’t know whether this was a serious proposal, or just a pipe-dream. But it made absolutely no economic sense whatsoever, and the attitude towards the Valleys electrification does look like the same sort of thinking.

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3 Responses to South Wales Electrification and Economic Reality

  1. Chris Hall says:

    The North-South line plan is still alive. I was pretty much run out of a meeting for suggesting they should upgrade existing services rather rebuild. It’s all about ‘nation’ building and political posturing rather than supporting the needs of the people who need the services. I didn’t dare say why would anyone want to travel that route anyway. If you live In North Wales and need to go to a big city for say Healthcare, surely Liverpool or Manchester are more logical and convenient. It’s not just Plaid though. Welsh Labour are just as bad if not worse.

  2. Serdar says:

    Side comment I’ve been meaning to make fo some time: I know little casually about the politics and geography at work here, but the issues at stake remind me a great deal of the problems of mass transit where I grew up (the NYC / Tri-State area). Right now the big controversy du jour is the possible renovation of Penn Station, which currently is a hole in the ground that makes the worst train stations of the UK look paradisical in comparison. (And it’s all the more heartbreaking when you saw what Penn Station looked like originally…)

  3. Tim Hall says:

    I haven’t been to Penn Station. But I bet you haven’t been to Birmingham New Street either :)