Over the next 30 years it is forecast that the benefits to the regions’ economies owing to the improvement programme will be at least double the £5bn being invested. It will also potentially bring new rail journey opportunities for key urban centres, including Reading, Oxford, Swindon, Bath and Bristol, boosting these economies by an additional £200m.
The ten-year improvement plan – the largest revamp of the Great Western railway since it was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel 175 years ago – was unveiled today by transport secretary Philip Hammond and Network Rail chief executive David Higgins.
Speaking at the launch event at London Paddington station, David Higgins said the investment would turn the Great Western into “the most advanced intercity railway in Britain” and would help drive economic growth across the region.
Electrification, resignalling and new trains will improve journeys and provide the extra capacity needed to cater for a predicted 51% increase in passengers travelling on the route over the next 30 years.
David Higgins, chief executive of Network Rail, said: “Today sees the start of an unprecedented period of investment in the Great Western. The planned improvements will provide a bigger and better railway for passengers, help support and drive economic growth and allow our regions to thrive. By the end of the decade, the Great Western main line will be the most advanced intercity railway in Britain, setting the standard for twenty-first century rail and providing the capacity we need to cater for the continued increase in the popularity of rail travel.”
The Rt Hon Philip Hammond, MP, secretary of state for transport, said: “The case for developing the Great Western main line into a railway for the twenty-first century is above all an economic one. The transformational 10-year programme that Network Rail is leading will do more than help to meet projected demand for increased passenger and freight journeys; it will deliver a long-term boost to the economies of Wales and the South West.”
Mark Hopwood, director, First Great Western, said: “In the past 10 years we have seen marked journey growth in the area First Great Western serves, with over 40% growth. The combination of improved reliability, better connectivity and competitiveness of rail against other modes is increasingly attracting customers to use the railway.”
David Rosser, director, CBI South West, said: “A modern and efficient railway is a critical part of the infrastructure needed to support business in the 21st century. For Wales and the South West, linkages to London and the international transport networks will be a fundamental component of regional competitiveness, so this programme of investment is very good news.”
A recent survey of more than 800 passengers and businesses found that having more seats on trains was by far the most desired improvement, followed by improved punctuality and shorter journey times.
The same survey found that the majority of people think the improvement will help boost the local economy, underlining the link between fast, efficient rail links and economic growth. In addition, nearly half of all business respondents said they would use or recommend train travel after the improvement work is complete.
Around 72% of respondents said that any short-term disruption will be worth the long-term gains that the improvements will bring.
To keep disruption to a minimum, Network Rail is working closely with its rail industry partners, suppliers and potential contractors to explore new and innovative ways of working. The industry will also be putting in place lessons learned from the Reading redevelopment project, which was recently singled out by Passenger Focus as an example of best practice for keeping passengers informed during major work.
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