Decision to scrap rail electrification schemes was taken on a “simple basis”

Chris Grayling has received criticism after he once again defended his decision to scrap a rail electrification program between Cardiff and Swansea after claiming going ahead with the plans was “not the sensible thing to do”.

The transport secretary told MPs on last week that spending hundreds of millions of pounds on the project was not the right call and bi-modal trains could deliver similar benefits. The Department for Transport (DfT) estimated that cancelling three electrification projects would save a maximum of £105m in 2014-19 rail investment period but would avert £1.385m of spending in the following 2019-24 period.

In a report released by The National Audit Office (NAO) last month, the controversial decision to cancel the schemes was judged as a purely financial one by the government watchdog. Claims that the introduction of new bi-mode trains would make electrification unnecessary was untested and uncosted, according to the NAO.

This led to Grayling being accused of lying about the decision he and the government made. Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, said it was clear the secretary of state for transport had “lied” and “the truth is that the government didn’t want to find the money and made up a story about sudden improvements using state of the art bi-mode trains”.

During transport questions in the Commons, Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards asked: "Isn't the reality that the British government does not consider the west of my country worthy of investment?"

Responding to the Welsh MP, the transport secretary said: "The prime minister and I discussed the issue of Cardiff to Swansea at the time and reached a view that spending hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money - causing massive disruption to passengers - to enable the same trains to travel the same route at the same to the same timetable as is happening today was not actually a sensible thing to do. We took the decisions about electrification on the Midland mainline, on Cardiff to Swansea on a simple basis: that spending hundreds of millions of pounds or billions of pounds to achieve the same journey times in the same trains actually was not sensible.”

Dr Jenifer Baxter, head of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), claims the government has wrongly claimed that similar benefits of electrification programmes can be delivered by bi-mode trains.

She added: “Electrification of this line will bring improved air quality, better energy efficiency of trains, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and an enhanced services. It is also a stretch of line that is used extensively and provides an economic link between the two main cities in South Wales. Unacceptably high costs for the Great Western electrification scheme have been given as the reason for scrapping the scheme, with costs rising from £87m in 2013 to £2.8bn in 2015. At today’s prices, this is seven times the cost of British Rail’s electrification of the East Coast route. For this reason government has cut back this electrification and, wrongly, claims that its benefits can be delivered by bi-mode trains.”

A report published by IMechE, A Breath of Fresh Air: New Solutions to Reduce Transport Emissions, recommended the Department for Transport instruct Network Rail to develop an appropriate specification for railway electrification, which would achieve an affordable business case for rolling programme to complete the electrification of main lines between Britain’s principal cities and ports, and of urban rail networks through major city centres.

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