New­bury elec­tri­fi­ca­tion: anger con­tin­ues at block­ades

Rail (UK) - - Network News - Paul Clifton Con­tribut­ing Writer rail@bauer­me­dia.co.uk @PaulCliftonBBC

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.

PAUL CLIFTON.

En­gi­neers carry out elec­tri­fi­ca­tion work at New­bury on Au­gust 28. Net­work Rail has can­celled a planned pos­ses­sion in Novem­ber.

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