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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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