Chris Grayling defends decision to cancel rail electrification schemes

Transport secretary, Chris Grayling, is standing firm on his decision to cancel rail electrification schemes.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has once again defended his decision to cancel electrification programmes in three parts of the country while being grilled by MPs.

Grayling was appearing before the transport committee for a second time to explain his decision to scrap three rail electrification schemes. Using the example of electrifying the railway between Cardiff and Swansea, the secretary of state said “spending £500m to enable the same trains to travel on the same track, at the same speed isn’t a terribly good use of taxpayers' money”. 

Grayling was called back before the committee as its chair, Lilian Greenwood, believed MPs needed to hear from the transport secretary for a second time to “better understand” his position and decision making. She also claimed the transport secretary had failed in his promise “to provide us with full impact assessments” for the schemes in south Wales, the Midlands and the Lake District which were axed or downgraded in July last year.

Defending his position, Grayling repeatedly told the committee that it was better to focus on boosting capacity rather than electrification and using bi-mode trains, which operate as either diesel or electric, would provide almost identical benefits and spare passengers “years of disruption” - citing weekend line closures caused by electrification works around Bristol as something people who use the three lines where electrification has been cancelled will now avoid.

"My job is to try and maximise the value to passengers of the investments that we make. Spending £500m to enable the same trains to travel on the same track, at the same speed isn't a terribly good use of taxpayers' money."
Transport secretary, Chris Grayling.

“My job is to try to maximise the value to passengers of the investments that we make,” Grayling added. “And spending a billion pounds to shave a minute off the journey time to Sheffield at a time when there are capacity constraints elsewhere on the network still to be tackled, didn’t seem to be the best use of money. With bi-mode trains you're getting all the passenger benefits without any of the disruption, no passenger’s travel experience is going to be worse by using bi-mode trains.”

The cabinet minister further defended the highly controversial move to axe the schemes by predicting that the Welsh Government will also roll back plans to electrify the valley lines, despite being attacked by Welsh politicians from Plaid Cymru and Labour following the announcement.

He added: “Having been given a hard time by the Welsh Government for that decision, it now looks like the Welsh Government is going to take the same decision on the valley lines. So, I’m actually not expecting all the valley lines to be electrified either. And that’s actually a pragmatic minister on the other side of the political fence, I think, almost certain to take a similar decision on that bit of infrastructure.”

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