I wish to update the House on the programme of rail investment in the Great Western route and the steps we are taking to ensure this improves services to passengers while getting the best deal for taxpayers.
We are continuing to invest £2.8 billion in this electrification programme to provide faster journeys, more services, and better stations while providing new or upgraded trains for passengers, with thousands more seats, and increasing capacity for freight. It will improve the experience on over 100 million rail journeys each year, stimulating economic growth from London through the Thames Valley, to the Cotswolds, West Country and to South Wales.
It is a project unprecedented in scale that is building on and around ageing assets in constant use. This is an ambitious and challenging undertaking, but real progress is being made in delivering it.
Projects completed successfully this year include the digital upgrade of large sections of signalling to improve reliability, the modification of over 100 bridges and structures, flood alleviation work, significant improvements to the resilience of the Oxford route and the introduction of the first Great Western electric services between Hayes & Harlington to Paddington which run between some of the busiest peak services in the country.
Works on the Severn Tunnel this autumn made vital preparation for electrification between London and South Wales. Other enabling works include the progression of electrification towards the west, further re-signalling in Bristol, Cardiff and Cornwall, improvements at Bristol Temple Meads Station, enabling works at stations throughout the route, provision of better access for disabled passengers at selected stations, and enhancements to depots from West Ealing in the east to Penzance in the west.
We have been clear that there have been difficulties with this programme. These were set out last year in the review of Network Rail’s delivery plan by Sir Peter Hendy. Following the re-planning of work that followed this review, the programme has been placed on a more efficient footing. A key part of this is the ongoing assessment of investment decisions so that passengers and taxpayers get maximum value.
As a result of this scrutiny from the Hendy review I have decided to defer 4 electrification projects that are part of the programme of work along the Great Western route. The 4 projects being deferred are:
- electrification between Oxford and Didcot Parkway
- electrification of Filton Bank (Bristol Parkway to Bristol Temple Meads)
- electrification west of Thingley Junction (Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads)
- electrification of Thames Valley Branches (Henley & Windsor)
This is because we can bring in the benefits expected by passengers - newer trains with more capacity – without requiring costly and disruptive electrification works. This will provide between £146 million to £165 million in this spending period, to be focused on improvements that will deliver additional benefits to passengers. We remain committed to modernising the Great Western mainline and ensuring that passenger benefits are achieved.
This decision underscores the government’s approach to wider rail investment; that passenger outcomes must be delivered in conjunction with achieving the best value from every pound spent.