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Planning underway to electrify Bath’s railway

The electrification of Bath’s railway moved a step closer today as Network Rail outlined how it plans to electrify the rail route through the city and on to Swansea via Bristol as part of its electrification of the Great Western Main Line.

Electrification will open the way for a new generation of electric intercity trains to be introduced on routes serving Bath from 2017, meaning more seats, more legroom, more tables and a reduction in journey times for passengers. It will also deliver a greener, quieter, more reliable railway with fewer emissions being released into the atmosphere and a reduction in noise as electric trains replace existing diesel ones.

Network Rail is undertaking a package of work in preparation for the electrification of the Bath railway corridor, most of which will be completed at night so trains can operate as normal for passengers. Work which cannot be completed at night and which will affect services to and from Bath is to be combined during a six-week period in summer 2015, from mid-July to the end of August, with work completed in two main phases during those six weeks.

The first three-week phase will affect only the immediate Box Tunnel area (near Corsham), while the second three-week phase also closes the entire railway immediately east of Bath station and the direct route to Trowbridge.

By maximising work over a six-week period it will be completed with the minimum possible level of disruption to passengers. Network Rail will also be using this period to complete other work that was due to be undertaken in the Bath area over the coming years, minimising disruption further still.

Patrick Hallgate, Network Rail route managing director, said: “The work that we will be undertaking at Bath is part of our wider electrification project, delivering not only a greener and quieter railway but a better service for passengers across the south west.

“We realise that this work will cause disruption to rail users, but we are working closely with all the relevant parties to minimise that disruption, and when the work is complete, it will pave the way for a massively improved rail service.”

The work is planned for the summer of 2015 to avoid other major improvements being carried out by Network Rail at Reading and Bristol, while also avoiding bat and newt breeding seasons. The major elements of the work are:

 

  • Lowering the track in Box Tunnel and installing electrification equipment
  • Canopy works at Bath Spa station
  • Installing specially designed electrification equipment in Sydney Gardens, in recognition of its unique status as a World Heritage Site. Huge care will be taken to ensure that the electrified rail route protects the special status of the City of Bath and its listed buildings.

 

Network Rail, First Great Western, Bath & North East Somerset Council and Bath Tourism Plus are working together to ensure that disruption to passengers and visitors to the city is minimised, keeping passengers on trains, wherever possible, rather than having to use coach services as the railway around Bath is modernised.

A firm objective of all parties is to ensure that Bath remains open during these works next summer, albeit with a reduced level of service. Service provision measures currently under consideration include:

 

  • Ensuring commuters and off peak passengers can travel by train by keeping the rail route west of Bath open throughout the improvement works, so that a reduced service from Bath Spa to London Paddington and Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads and Cardiff Central can operate.
  • Keeping passengers on trains that normally travel through Bath Spa by diverting services where at all possible.
  • Implementing a high quality coach service between Bath Spa and Chippenham, Trowbridge and Westbury which would operate at the same frequency as rail services, connecting passengers with onward train services at those stations.
  • Easing ticket restrictions to enable passengers to use alternative rail routes.
  • Allowing car park season ticket holders to use car parks at alternative train stations.

 

Final plans for the programme of work and alternative travel arrangements will be announced this autumn following consultation with businesses, tourism representatives, passengers and user groups over the coming months.

Mark Hopwood for First Great Western said: "By working with businesses and the community in Bath we are developing a train service plan that supports the local economy while also allowing Network Rail the vital access it needs to the railway in order to electrify the route. Our goal is to ensure the route is modernised in the shortest time possible and with the minimum level of disruption to our passengers."

Cllr Paul Crossley, leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council, said: “These modernisation works offer a fantastic opportunity to improve rail services for visitors and commuters coming to Bath.

 

“We’re really pleased that Network Rail and First Great Western are working together to put meticulous plans in place to ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum during the short period of works. We’re also keen to make people aware that Bath will still be very much ‘open for business’, and assist them in getting around easily so they can continue to enjoy the wide variety of shops, entertainment and visitor attractions which our beautiful World Heritage City has to offer.”

Nick Brooks-Sykes, chief executive for Bath Tourism Plus, said: “A fast, efficient and frequent railway connection to London is key to future growth of the visitor economy in Bath. We therefore welcome the plans to electrify the lines and introduce new rolling stock. We recognise that there will inevitably be some short term disruption, so welcome the fact that Network Rail and First Great Western will be working with BTP to minimise this where possible and to support BTP in informing potential visitors of route and timetable alterations.”

Some further work will be needed in 2016 west of Bath that will require further changes to train services on some weekends, but this will not be on the scale of the summer 2015 alterations.

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