ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners said the Welsh Government’s preferred M4 plan across the Gwent Levels could spell the “death knell” for valleys railways electrification.
Environmental coalition, the Campaign Against the Levels Motorway (Calm), believes that the proposal, if advanced, would end any hope of the £400 million electrification.
Following recent controversy over who will pay for the upgrade, the campaigners believe it could come down to a choice between the two.
Calm spokesman Gareth Clubb said: “If UK government ministers are to be believed, the Welsh Government has agreed to pay for electrification of the valleys line. But at the same time, Edwina Hart is pushing ahead with plans to build a hugely expensive, environmentally-destructive motorway through the Gwent Levels.
“The Welsh Government hasn’t got a bottomless pot of money for transport projects. At some point it’s going to have to make a choice.”
Calm has urged the government to strongly to consider an alternative M4 proposal from transport expert Professor Stuart Cole. The Blue Route, jointly published by the Institute for Welsh Affairs and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport, proposes an alternative road that would cost £380 million rather than the planned £936 million project.
It proposes that a new dual carriageway would be built using the Southern Distributor Road and the former Steelworks Road on the eastern side of Newport.
Mr Clubb added: “The Welsh Government can invest in electrification of the valleys and make improvements to the M4 corridor. But it can only afford to do that if it adopts Professor Cole’s Blue Route, which can be delivered sooner and at a fraction of the cost. The Welsh Government’s preferred choice of a new stretch of M4 spells the death knell for electrification of the valleys lines.”
An outline business case for valleys rail electrification – written by the Welsh government in 2012 – estimates the cost at between £309m and £463m. Electrification of the commuter lines in and out of Cardiff is due to be completed between 2019 and 2024.
A spokeswoman for the Welsh government said: “CALM is wrong. This is not a case of 'either, or' as any M4 enhancement would need to be complementary with public transport improvements."
She added discussions were ongoing with the UK regarding the funding of Valleys line electrification and all responses to the M4 consultation, including any alternatives proposed, are being considered and an announcement is due in the summer.