GWR London – Cardiff line to be electrified

Wednesday, July 22 2009

…but not just yet!


Cardiff Central Station still proudly carries its 1930s GWR brand

Today’s Guardian reveals that the Department for Transport is about to announce the electrification of Network Rail’s Paddington – Cardiff Central railway line – part of the former Great Western Railway mainline and the South Wales line. Wonderful, just introduce cab signalling, bring on a hotted-up version of the Pendolinos and run them really fast, say up to 155 mph (the top speed of a BMW 750i). With their fast acceleration and cornering abilities, London to Cardiff in 90 minutes with stops at Bristol Parkway and Newport becomes a distinct possibility.

However, this is Britain, not France and careful rereading of the article reveals that the announcement might be held over until a ‘funding package’ is agreed. Now when did you last read about a motorway building or widening scheme announcement being held back while the Minister discusses credit with the bank?

Moreover, the scheme will be rolled out in stages, perhaps over 10 years. Now come on DfT chaps you are not building the Channel Tunnel. From Paddington to Cardiff is only 145 miles (233 km) – just right for a rolling 2 year electrification programme. OK, we will let you electrify the Wooton Basset to Bristol and Didcot to Oxford lines in year 3.

Well apparently it is not to be. In the UK electrification is treated very seriously and must take ten years. I calculate that the catenary will go up at the astounding rate of 14 miles per year. In the meantime the DfT is procuring some Frankenstein multiple units. These will have heavy diesel engines to make the electricity where there is not any catenary.

Everybody who is anybody in the railway industry is trying to tell Lord Adonis that this is not a good idea. For a start, dragging heavy diesel engines about where the line is electrified will waste energy and reduce acceleration. Second, in order to cut the weight of the diesels the units in non-electric mode are unlikely to have decent acceleration or or a decent top speed on the non-electrified sections. Thirdly, the Frankenstein units will be non standard and failure prone. You get my general drift? Am I the only one wondering if the DfT is designing the GWR electrification to fail?

Our chief engineer has a better solution. Why not use MPUs to pull the train on the non-electrified sections. MPUs? Mobile Power Units. I can just remember the days when we had rather a lot of these. They were called something different then. Ah yes, I remember now – ‘railway engines’.



  1. Typical British fannying about! Look at Australia – decided to build a line from Darwin to Alice Springs and just got on with it. Or China with its line into neighbouring Tibet. But the British are obsessed with money and won’t do anything unless they’ve done numerous feasibility studies and financial calculations. I doubt whether Brunel was so tied down by bean counters!

  2. The Australian government committed to Alice Springs – Darwin in 1911. A company was formed in 1996, and construction started in 2001…

  3. Some of the delay can be attributed to being under British rule for so long!

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