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Train times on Western route will be slashed
AMBITIOUS plans for a £9bn upgrade to the railway across the west, which include electrification of the creaking Great Western main line, are on track.
Network Rail’s strategic business plan for the Western route, which runs from Paddington to south Wales and the south west of England via the Thames Valley, has been submitted to the Office of Rail Regulation.
The launch of a £45m project to redouble the commuter line between Swindon and Kemble, which forms part of the project, is due to take place with Swindon MPs Robert Buckland and Justin Tomlinson on Friday.
Doubling the 12.5 miles of single-track – turning it into a two-way service – will remove a bottleneck on the route to London and decreasing commuter travel time.
Swindon is central to the masterplan because a depot at the Transfer Sidings industrial estate, in Ocotal Way, will produce the UK’s first factory train – effectively a mobile workstation that will electrify the old diesel line.
The new high-speed InterCity Express trains, which will be powered by overhead electric lines, will be faster, greener and more frequent.
The Bristol to London route will be doubled to run four times an hour, with journey times reduced by 10 or 15 minutes.
The package of works is designed to cater for rising passenger numbers and is the biggest series of changes to the Great Western main line since it was built 175 years ago.
The number of passengers using the line is now more than 50m a year, following a decade in which passenger numbers grew by 42 per cent. The growth has led to severe overcrowding at the busiest times of day between London and Thames Valley, with trains between Reading and the capital accounting for six of the 10 most overcrowded rail journeys in Britain.
To provide for a further 51 per cent predicted increase in passengers over the next 30 years, Network Rail and its rail industry partners will deliver a programme of electrification, signalling upgrades and new, longer trains between 2014 and 19.
Patrick Hallgate, Network Rail route managing director, said: “Managing what is essentially a Victorian railway is becoming increasingly difficult and this programme of investment will bring it firmly into the 21st century.
“The improvements will deliver huge benefits to passengers, but there will inevitably be trade-offs which need to be made to deliver them.
“As the railway gets busier, the number of challenges increase and it becomes more complex than ever to run a reliable and cost-effective railway. As a result, we will increasingly have to balance the needs to build and renew infrastructure, run trains on time and reduce costs.”
South Swindon MP Robert Buckland said: “This is welcome confirmation of the news we have already had of investment in the Great Western main line over the next few years. Electrification is hugely important for Swindon because it doesn’t just mean quicker trains but more frequent trains and also more capacity. “A big issue for travellers on the line is the number of seats available and increasing seat capacity in and out of London will make a big difference to the quality of the journey for thousands of commuters.”