As we continue to celebrate Swindon’s railway heritage as part of the 175th anniversary of the founding of the town’s railway works, I am pleased to see more signs that the railways will be part of our future.
Last week I had the pleasure of going to Paddington to see one of the new electric trains unveiled. These new trains really do live up to their promise in terms of modern looks and their design also makes them stand out as an improvement over the Inter City trains we have used for so many years.
At the same time, work continues on the electrification of the mainline from London to Bristol and Cardiff. Here Swindon is playing a vital role in training the engineers and other staff who are vital for this work at the recently opened training centre. Once electrification is complete, we should see faster journey times to London – about 45 minutes – and even better links to the City centre and the East as the new Elizabeth Cross-Rail Line opens.
One other benefit of all these developments is that the number of people employed in the rail industry or its sub-contractors has risen. Over 1,000 people work at Network Rail while at least 500 work for Great Western Railway. Many of these are the high-skilled jobs that are vital to a thriving local economy. I appreciate that all this work on the tracks means a certain amount of delay or inconvenience, but I hope you will agree with me that the benefits we expect to see far outweigh these.
Alongside these improvements, we are still working with the Government as one of just three towns identified for a new station. This would be part of a major redevelopment bringing new housing to “brown field” sites near the current railway station. Not only will this provide a further boost for the town centre, it will also help support more jobs, especially in the construction industry.
These developments are an illustration of how we will achieve the Council’s Vision Priority – to improve infrastructure and housing to support a growing, low-carbon economy. Clearly the modernisation programmes are independent from local government, as they ought to be, but as I have said all along with the Vision, it will only be successful when businesses, residents, and other stakeholders work in partnership.
Lastly, as I write this on US Independence Day, I would like to wish all our American residents well on their national day of celebration. There are many international communities with links to Swindon, including the US, Brazil, and many Commonwealth states, not to mention our friends from Europe. Swindon has an exciting future and we welcome everyone.