Newbury electrification: anger continues at blockades
THE latest stage of Great Western electrification between Reading and Newbury took place at the end of August, with weekday services suspended from August 28-31.
Buses replaced trains from Pewsey, Bedwyn, Hungerford, Kintbury and Newbury to Theale, adding an hour to most journeys. Long-distance services between London and the South West were diverted via Swindon.
A further blockade is due from October 8-11. However, Network Rail has told Great Western Railway that a published blockade from November 19-22 will no longer be needed.
“It has been really tough for passengers,” said Christopher Irwin, of TravelWatch SouthWest.
“There have been more than 40 days on which commuters have had their days extended by two hours-plus. It adds up to an extra three weeks on their working year. That’s not fair. The passenger operator has improved the bus service as time has gone on, but that just indicates it wasn’t right in the first place.
“Electrification ends at Newbury. So, if you live further west, in places like Hungerford, Bedwyn or Pewsey, you’re not really going to get any direct advantage from this work - no extra services worth speaking of. But you get all the disadvantages while it is going on.
“TravelWatch argued hard, using Network Rail’s own data, that electrification is justified through to Exeter. Network Rail miscalculated, they ran out of money, and they ran out of time. So, the work is stopping at Newbury, which doesn’t really make any sense in operating terms. Eventually, electrification is going to have to continue to the far South West.”
This latest blockade followed a five-week stint earlier in the summer. For travellers from Bedwyn, the August closure also entailed the rebuilding of a turnback siding just west of the station, to make room for new and longer Hitachi Class 802 bi-mode trains to replace older diesel Turbo services. The
extension of the siding required only an additional 11 metres of track, but involved the moving of a pedestrian crossing.
“Does it really need a whole year to put up wires on what is only a 15-mile straightforward bit of railway?” asked Steve Smith of Bedwyn Trains Passenger Group.
“When this started, the bus meant it was taking three hours to get to Paddington and three hours back again in the evening. Obviously this was making life pretty impossible. Later they put on a faster bus from Bedwyn and Hungerford straight to Reading. But it has been quite hellish for commuters.” Will the end result be worth it? “I wonder. You have to think of the cost to the economy. And the health and welfare of the passengers. When the benefit:cost ratio was drawn up in 2009 it looked fine. The ratio was calculated on weekend closures only. But since then the closures have been on weekdays for much of the year. I doubt anyone has worked out how many years it will take before the benefits balance out the cost of the disruption.”
For Network Rail, spokesman Simon Masters repeated the view that midweek blockades through the summer was the “least worst” solution to get the work completed by the end of this year.
“It has been an extremely complex process to electrify this railway,” he said. “We are now at the testing and commissioning stage, making sure that the 25,000 volts of electricity to enable trains to barrel along here are safe and ready to carry brand new trains from early 2019.”
Great Western Railway said each new Hitachi Class 802 IET would offer 24% more seats than the High Speed Train it replaces. Turbo DMUs to Bedwyn will also be replaced with bi-mode trains. Some will extend to Frome.
In total, there will be an additional 4,500 seats between Newbury and Paddington each day.
Engineers carry out electrification work at Newbury on August 28. Network Rail has cancelled a planned possession in November.