By Carwyn Williams
Students returning to Cardiff are facing travel chaos this month, as the Severn Tunnel closes for a six-week period. The vital rail link between England and Wales has been used for over 130 years, but is now closed so that vital upgrade work can be done to electrify the London-Cardiff main line.
The disruption means trains to London are being diverted via Gloucester, adding over half an hour to journey times. Getting to Bristol on the other hand is much more of a hassle, comprising of getting a train to Newport, a bus replacement service to Bristol Parkway, and another train to Temple Meads, and could take two hours at peak hours.
Eleanor Parkyn, a third year JOMEC student said: “I won’t be able to go home/visit people this term because its made my journey time three hours longer than usual each way but is somehow more expensive.”
Anthea Dolman-Gair, senior programme manager for Network Rail Wales, said, “Without a solid six-week closure, it would take engineers a minimum of five years of weekend working to complete the upgrade, causing significant long-term disruption for passengers and delaying electrification in South Wales.”
The upgrade is part of a wider £3 billion project to electrify and modernise the Great Western Rail Line from London Paddington to Swansea. On top of this, international students will benefit from a new railway line connecting Heathrow airport with the Western line at Reading, removing the need to go via London Paddington and saving journey times further. It is hoped that electrification between Cardiff and London will be complete by March 2019, already two years behind schedule.
Alternative travel methods are also an option, with National Express putting extra buses on the route to Bristol. Furthermore, Flybe have introduced a new flight from Cardiff to London City Airport, from about £35 each way.
The line will reopen on the October 22 if all goes to plan, and open by the time reading week comes around for many students.