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Ruling due on how far line will be electrified; BUT WHO WILL PAY THE BILLS?


THE UK Government will announce its decision on electrifying the main Great Western rail line in one month, it has been confirmed, as behind-the-scenes haggling continues over who should pay for what.

Transport Secretary Justine Greening is to announce by July 31 her decision on whether the line will be electrified as far as Swansea, together with the Valleys Lines.

TheUKGovernment revealed on March 1 it was prepared to electrify the line as far as Cardiff, and more recently it has indicated it will also proceed with electrification of the central Valleys Lines from Barry via Cardiff to Aberdare, Treherbert, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.

The Welsh Government, backed by business and rail user groups, is arguing that it makes sense to electrify the main line to Swansea, as well as the branch lines to Maesteg and Ebbw Vale and the Vale of Glamorgan line from Barry to Bridgend via Rhoose and Llantwit Major.

Electrification is seen as a crucial element in making Wales more attractive for business investment and connectivity by reducing travelling time to London.

Amid secrecy over how discussions are going, the UK Government has admitted it is in discussion with the Welsh Government over not just whether the scheme provides value for money, but on "financing details".

This has been interpreted by some rail industry observers as meaning that the UK Government may expect the Welsh Government to pay the infrastructure costs of extending main line electrification to Swansea, as well as to the Maesteg, Ebbw Vale and Vale of Glamorgan lines.

The Welsh Government is pressing its position that, as the funding for rail infrastructure projects is not devolved, the full bill should be picked up by the UK Government.

It is understood that Whitehall officials have pointed out to their counterparts in the Welsh Government that the Maesteg, Ebbw Vale and Vale of Glamorgan lines were reopened on the initiative of Welsh ministers.

The retort to that has been that Wales' rail programme is significantly underfunded in comparison with Scotland and big projects in England such as Crossrail and HS2.

It is understood that another factor under discussion is who will be responsible for funding the trains that would run over the electrified lines.

In its response to a section on rail electrification in the House of Commons' Welsh Affairs Committee report on Inward Investment in Wales, the UK Government stated: "(We) will continue to work with the Welsh Government to consider electrification of the Great Western main line to Swansea and the Welsh Valley lines, subject to value for money and agreement on financing details. Decisions for the period 2014-2019 are expected to be announced in the summer."

AWelsh Government spokesman said its outline business cases have been submitted.

Professor Stuart Cole of the University of Glamorgan, regarded as Wales' leading transport expert, said: "There are a number of very important reasons why it makes sense to take the project as far west as Swansea.

"Based on the way business cases are evaluated, there is a stronger case for electrifying the line to Swansea than there was for Crossrail, which is going ahead."

Roy Thomas, director of the Cardiff Business Partnership, said: "From an economic development point of view, it makes absolute sense for the whole project to go ahead.

"I hope very much the UK Government will be persuaded by the strength of the case."


* The UK Government is set to announce whether the railway line to Swansea will be electrified
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 30, 2012
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