Putting up some wires

Out to grass in eight years’ timeYesterday’s announcement of plans to electrify the railway line between London and South Wales is, in principle, good news for those that travel on the route. When completed, journey times should be less, and the cost of running the trains should be less and they should be cleaner and more reliable. All that is just a consequence of the technology. But much of the rest that has been claimed for the plan will depend on political decisions.

Whether there will be more seats depends on whether the government allows the railways to buy electric trains with more seats than on the old diesel ones. Whether the lower running costs will turn into lower fares depends on how much the government charges First Great Western or its successors for the privilege of running the railway. The current government has, almost without exception, given rail franchises to the highest bidder with little regard to the quality of service to be provided. And then there’s the scope for budget overruns that are endemic whenever politicians and civil servants get involved in contracts and procurement projects.

With at least two general elections between now and the planned completion of the electrification, the chances that it will be derailed by political interference must be high.

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