This month we saw the long-awaited report on the possible electrification of our local railway. The study was a direct result of the huge public reaction to proposals in the last franchise bidding document to reduce through train services from Bedwyn and Pewsey stations – an unacceptable situation given the importance of the rail links to our local economy. I took all the letters, petition and studies straight to the Minister for Transport, Simon Burns, and together with my neighbouring MP colleagues, argued at a meeting last November that the decision to end electrification at Newbury was not only arbitrary but contributing to the potential downscaling of services. The immediate and welcome result of our meeting was the commissioning of this study to assess the costs and benefits of extending electrification.
Four scenarios were considered:
- an extension of electrification to Bedwyn
- further extension to Westbury
- electrification to Frome and the Mendip quarries
- an extension of the scheme round to Bathampton Junction
We held meetings with the Consultants and made sure that all local feedback and communications were considered by the team in their consideration of variables like benefits in time savings, crowding, passenger quality, carbon emissions and reduced private car use. The initial results, which are summarised in the letter from the Minister, gave a strongly positive business case for the extension of electrification to Bedwyn but suggested that electrification further down the line would not be economic. The Minister also said that funding for the next capital spending period was already committed and therefore the work would have to wait until the 2019-24 period.
This is half a victory but it is not nearly enough and we now have more work to do. First, I have written to the Minister and the Chancellor pointing out that it would be mad to stop the work that is planned as far as Newbury in 2016, down tools and leave, only to come back three years later to do the last few miles and I would like to pull forward infrastructure spending from future periods to 2016 to get the Bedwyn work done. Second, I have asked for an assessment of the business case for the extension of electrification to Pewsey. Third, I have requested a meeting with the Department and the current franchise holders to seek reassurances over current levels of train services from Pewsey. Electrification is great – but what we must have is reliable, frequent through trains to support our local economy and I won't declare success until that is what we have.
Following the Government Spending Review and the announcement of £100bn of spending on infrastructure projects, I took the opportunity to write to the Chancellor again about the opportunity to include the Newbury-Bedwyn extension in the 2016 programme of works.
For more information, see Claire Perry's June Email Bulletin.