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Press Releases


200mph Rail Line Plan For South West And Wales
17 October 2002

The potential for a new 200mph railway line which could put parts of the South West and South Wales within just over an hour from London is to be tested in a new joint study for First Great Western, the statutory Rail Passengers' network and regional stakeholders.

The six-month study and consultation will look at Japanese and French style high-speed solutions using brand new routes and high speed trains.

The project will investigate technology, rolling stock, routes, timescales, feasibility, sustainability issues and economics. It will consult with politicians, regional and local authorities, passenger groups and business leaders across both South Wales and the South West to identify the services which will best meet the needs of businesses and communities.

Dean Finch, Managing Director of First's Rail Division, said: "The South West and South Wales have been the Cinderella of rail infrastructure investment for far too long. We want to champion a new generation of sustainable train travel. A new high-speed rail service could transform these economies encouraging inward investment, tourism and access to new markets.

"All our research so far indicates that we would need to develop dedicated high speed lines on brand new routes. This would cut costs, avoid disruption to existing services and allow us to develop new integrated, pedestrian-friendly transport interchanges with excellent road access and parking and connecting bus and local rail links.

"We are already looking at the longer term for the sort of trains we would need to serve these routes. Without doubt they will more than match the standards of quality, comfort and safety met by the world’s flagship services today.

"However, there is an urgent need to replace the existing First Great Western high speed train fleet now. We have been studying a range of world class options that could be introduced in the next few years. We hope to be in a position to announce our preferred solution – which could then be put to consultation – in the next few months."

Christopher Irwin, the Chairman of the Rail Passenger Council's Strategic Issues Task Force and Chairman of the RPC's Western Committee said: "The study is going to exhaustively test the business case and route options for a new high speed line. Journey times could be more than halved and become much more reliable. Bristol Parkway could be just 49 minutes from London, Cardiff 70 minutes and Plymouth 140 minutes away.

"These projects cannot be delivered quickly and while we are looking way ahead for the first trains entering service, planning needs to begin now."

Nigel Hutchings, Head of Policy for Bristol Chamber of Commerce, said: "This sort of long term strategic thinking is just what the South West and South Wales need. A very high speed rail link of this kind would help encourage vital inward investment and would give us a considerable competitive edge – it can't come soon enough."

Devon and Cornwall Business Council Chairman, Tim Jones, said: "This is the first good news we have had since we started our campaign to highlight the lack of investment in the South West rail network. This is brilliant news and the Business Council will fully participate in the research programme. It is essential that businesses respond to this marvellous opportunity."

Malcolm Bell, Chief Executive of South West Tourism said: "It is great to see initiative and vision for the South West. Quality transport infrastructure is vital for our future prosperity. A high speed rail link would significantly improve access to the South West and would mean that the tourist industry here could really capitalise on the trend towards more frequent short breaks throughout the year. Truly integrated high speed rail connections which encourage people to leave their cars at home would reduce the current peak season road congestion – good news for the people of the South West and the tourist industry."

Bob Mills, Council member for Plymouth Chamber of Commerce, said: "I thoroughly endorse the strategy being proposed by First Great Western. The West Country certainly needs an improved high speed rail link to open up the region and to improve the peninsula's infrastructure. This will be of enormous benefit to business travellers and will certainly improve the region's economic performance."

Helen Conway, Chief Executive of Cardiff Chamber of Commerce, said: "Cardiff Chamber of Commerce is fully supportive of this very fast rail route which will secure major benefits to industry in South Wales."

The study will be led by First Great Western with support from the Rail Passengers' network. A steering group of regional stakeholders will ensure that the views of those living and working in Wales and the West are at the heart of the study. First Great Western has already carried out both route and rolling stock research for the new line.

Who will lead the study?

First Great Western will lead a steering group of regional stakeholders. First Great Western will provide the core funding for the next stage of the study supported by contributions from regional stakeholders.

What will happen to the report?

Copies will be sent to the SRA and Government. The entire report will be published and made available to the industry, stakeholders and public.

Who would fund the construction of the new line?

That is one of the issues the study will consider. It will depend on the business case, opportunities for partnerships, European Union support, PPPs etc. But clearly, as in any other country, a project of this magnitude would need a large amount of public funding to lever in private sector investment. It will be the steering group's job to develop a persuasive case. But this is not a budgetary issue for today.

Would the new line come under the control of the SRA and of Network Rail?

The SRA must in due course become involved with the project, as they have responsibility for the national strategy for railways and an interest in the CTRL project. The SRA is already considering a project for a new North-South very high speed line, between London, the North of England, and Scotland. We are suggesting that the SRA and Government should be considering other routes also, to create a national very high speed rail network for the next decade.

The new very high speed sections of route would be self-contained with dedicated track and signalling - as high speed lines are in the rest of the world. As is the case elsewhere, the new route would also be connected to the national network at a number of locations. The signalling on the new route could therefore be operated by Network Rail, or could be independent.

Comparison between the West Coast Main Line Upgrade project (where costs and timescales have escalated, and the full planned outputs will not now be delivered) and the new very high speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link through Kent (which is on time and on budget) indicate that there are many advantages to be obtained if the new route is constructed on a dedicated alignment. Construction companies and potential funders know that costs can be predicted and controlled much more closely in such cases.

Would you use double decker trains with all the extra capacity they create?

France already has double-deck TGV trains operating on its busiest routes. It is impossible to use such trains on the current network because existing bridges and tunnels are too small to accommodate them. However, the new route could be designed to be able to take them, and this is an option that we will be considering.

Where would stations be?

That is one of the key areas the study will be looking at. For very high speed routes to be successful, they need to operate at maximum speed which invariably results in less stations than on a conventional railway.

We will be looking both at reclamation/regeneration schemes and new interchange stations away from town centres, as is already the case with Bristol Parkway. This would allow us to develop better road, parking, bus and coach links to stations, which would in some cases be able to serve more than one community as in many examples in France.

The new very high speed services would be in addition to the existing routes which would continue to serve the existing stations.

How soon could the first very high speed trains be running?

Such a major project would probably take more than ten years to complete, but it could be built in stages (as has occurred for most such new lines in the world, and indeed for the motorway networks).

After the next stage of the study is completed it would need to be considered and backed by the SRA and Government; financing found; detailed route surveys done; public consultations carried out; planning permission sought and contracts let.

Do you have a ball park figure for the cost?

Projects like this do not come cheap and costs will depend on the extent of the network we propose. However, at today's prices the cost of developing a brand new very high speed route works out at £15 million plus per mile (significantly more where tunnelling is needed).

What assumptions have you made already?

That we would need to develop a brand new route
That it would broadly follow existing transport corridors
That we will be looking to serve South Wales, Bristol, and South West England
That we will considering a number of 'parkway' interchange stations, some of which may be at new sites
That trains would run at speeds of up to 200mph
That routes might be capable of carrying double decker trains
That in heavily populated areas - like the approaches to London and Paddington - trains would use existing tracks or run in tunnels
That the project could be constructed in several phases

What examples do you have of likely journey times?

Journey times from London reduced to: Swindon 35 mins
Bristol Parkway 49 mins
Cardiff 70 mins
Swansea 120 mins
Plymouth 140 mins

There will be knock on benefits for journey times to places like Worcester and Hereford.

How would you create the necessary extra capacity at Paddington?

If Crossrail was constructed before the new very high speed line was in service, then this would divert much existing short-distance rail traffic away from the surface platforms at Paddington, so providing capacity for the new services. Alternatively, additional platforms can be built on the North side of the station (where development is currently being planned), or on the site of the former Parcels depot on the South side of the station.

Where and how can we give evidence to the study?

Details will be published in the near future, as the study gets under way.

Editor's notes: First Great Western is one of the UK's leading train companies, providing customers with nearly 200 high speed services across the South West, South Wales, Bristol, the Cotswolds and to London Paddington every day. With over 19 million passenger journeys a year, First Great Western leads the way in providing customers with high quality, safe, reliable and accessible services.

First is also the West Country's leading bus operator with more than 50 million passenger journeys in the Greater Bristol area. First Great Western is a part of First, the UK-based international public transport operator, which is the one of the country's largest train operators, the UK's biggest bus operator and the second largest provider of yellow school bus services in the United States. First has the clear vision to 'Transform Travel' and become the number one public transport provider.

For further information please contact Elaine Wilde or Tim Bowcock in the First Great Western press office on 01793 499499.

For customer enquiries please call 0870 241 0930.

Further information for journalists is available from Elaine Wilde or Tim Bowcock in the First Great Western Public Relations department on 01793 499499. For customer enquiries, please contact customer.relations@gwt.firstgroup.com or call 0845 6005604.

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