The UK government is deferring several electrification projects along the Great Western route, believing the money will benefit passengers more spent elsewhere.
The decision has been taken following a review conducted by Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy last year.
Rail minister Paul Maynard announced today (November 8) that four electrification schemes will be sidelined: Oxford to Didcot Parkway, Bristol Parkway to Bristol Temple Meads, Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads and the Henley and Windsor branch lines.
Maynard said he believes benefits brought by new trains could be achieved without the need for “costly and disruptive electrification works”.
The budget for the electrification of the Great Western route is now £2.8 billion – it was originally expected to cost less than £1 billion.
The government has estimated that deferring these four projects will save between £146 million and £165 million in the current control period.
Campaign for Better Transport said it was disappointed by the decision, adding that the government and Network Rail needed to reassure passengers that there were “no more skeletons in the closet that budgeting is genuinely now under control”.
Paul Maynard MP said: “We remain committed to modernising the Great Western Main Line and ensuring that passenger benefits are achieved.
“This decision underscores the government’s approach to wider rail investment; that passenger outcomes must be delivered in conjunction with achieving the best value from every pound spent.”
In the announcement, Maynard highlighted some of the project’s successes over the past 12 months, including the completion of work through the Severn Tunnel and various signalling modernisation schemes.
He added: “We are continuing to invest £2.8 billion in this electrification programme to provide faster journeys, more services, and better stations while providing new or upgraded trains for passengers, with thousands more seats, and increasing capacity for freight.
“It will improve the experience on over 100 million rail journeys each year, stimulating economic growth from London through the Thames Valley, to the Cotswolds, West Country and to South Wales.
“It is a project unprecedented in scale that is building on and around ageing assets in constant use. This is an ambitious and challenging undertaking, but real progress is being made in delivering it.”
In a statement issued by Network Rail, the Great Western route managing director, Mark Langman, said that, although it was delayed overall, “good progress” was being made on the project.
“The Great Western Main Line is undergoing a huge rail investment programme to enable new and upgraded trains with more seats and faster, greener journeys.
“The changes announced today will deliver those benefits to the greatest number of passengers in the shortest possible time. The programme remains complex and challenging but good progress is being made.”
Responding to the announcement, Paul Plummer, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, was confident that passengers on these routes would still notice a significant improvement in their journeys in the coming years.
“Everyone who uses the railway will benefit hugely from the step-change in new trains on the Great Western Main Line from next year, part of the wider Railway Upgrade Plan of over £50 billion,” he said.
“Across Britain, over 5,500 new carriages will be introduced between now and 2021 in deals worth at least £11.6 billion – the largest sustained investment in new trains for over 50 years.
“While some parts of the Great Western Electrification Programme have been deferred to a later date, rail companies continue to work hard to deliver the high-performing railway that Britain deserves as decades of under-investment are reversed.”