We all know that railways are a vital part of Swindon’s heritage and past economic growth, but I am delighted to say that they are part of our vibrant, prosperous future, too writes Swindon Council leader Councillor Renard.
The doubling of capacity on the line to Kemble has already helped boost for the number of passenger and freight trains. There is more to come as the Government, recognising the economic importance of the rail links to Bristol and South Wales via Swindon, has made this electrification its main rail infrastructure priority.
Last week I attended a conference in London organised by First Great Western, at which they presented more details of the new trains and services that will come once that work is complete. Those of you who travel into London by train will have seen the Hitachi signs on the maintenance depot that used to house the Eurostar trains but will, in future, support the line to Swindon.
I don’t think any of us fully appreciate the huge scale of this electrification programme. The sheer number of bridges that Network Rail is having to raise is almost mind-boggling. We are still waiting for the date when work will have to take place at Greenbridge.
I know these works are inconvenient and cause shot-term disruption. There will be issues in East Swindon when the Greenbridge bridge closes just as there will be problems from 18 July when the direct rail services to Chippenham, Bath Spa and Westbury have to stop. All I can say is that the investment is worth it.
Swindon itself will benefit hugely from faster, longer, more frequent services. It will help us exploit our distinctive if not unique location. Where else in the UK can you reach two capitals in around an hour by train? Where else can you find a borough that is with easy reach by road and rail of so much of the entire country’s economy?
In addition, improvements to the transport links to and from strengthen our position as a bridge between Wales and the South West to London and the South East. Under my predecessors, we built good relations with Cardiff and Bristol based on a memorandum of understanding that centred on how the three places could cooperate to bring investment and economic growth. I believe this working together helped support the case for electrification. Now I am working with the local authorities in the South East, so that we can make the most of Swindon’s geographical place.
Just as the railway is the central feature of the town, so this investment will make the railway central to our expanding local economy.