Published 4 August 2020 | Average read time
6 min read
Stories Living by the railway Putting passengers first

Our Wales and Western region connects communities in the west with major towns and cities and is bursting with Brunel history.

We’ve carried out lots of improvements for your journeys in this region since we launched big plans last summer to bring our people closer to the communities we serve.

How? We’ve split our railway into five regions across Britain so we can work closer with train companies and make decisions faster, with less red tape. Find out more about how this will lead to better services for you.

Wales and Western serves Wales, the Thames Valley, west of England and the South West Peninsula.

It’s made up of:

  • our Wales route, which links Cardiff, Newport, Swansea, Wrexham and Shrewsbury, and gives you rail connections in more rural areas
  • and our Western route, which stretches from London Paddington station to Penzance, through Bristol and up to the boundaries with Wales, Worcester and Basingstoke.

Wales and Western in numbers:

  • 122.5m passengers travel through Wales and Western each year in normal times
  • 452 stations
  • 2,700 miles of track
  • 5,841 bridges, 1,750 level crossings and more than 4,500 signals

The Architecture the Railways Built – Great Western Railway

The Architecture the Railways Built – Ffestiniog Railway

Isambard Kingdom Brunel and the Great Western Railway

The history of the Box Tunnel

Region profile – Scotland’s Railway

Essential upgrades for you

What are we doing in this region to create more space on the railway, improve journey times and enhance facilities for customers? A lot. Here are just some of our current projects …

Modernising the Great Western route

You can now catch a faster, electric train all the way from London Paddington to Cardiff and Newport

We’re giving you faster, more reliable services and better stations on the Great Western Main Line, which stretches from London Paddington station to south-west England and Wales.

We’ve electrified 150 miles of track so electric trains can run all the way from Paddington to Cardiff and Newport for the first time.

This electrification project finished in June and means thousands of extra seats, more frequent services and quicker journeys on train operator GWR’s Intercity Express Trains. In fact, it’s reduced journey times between South Wales and London by as much as 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, we’re updating Bristol Temple Meads station to meet long-term demand from passengers and improve your travelling experience. We’re refurbishing the Victorian roof to make the station brighter, building a new entrance to offer access the east of the city and giving you free station WiFi. Read about more station improvements here.

We’re also making more space and connections on the Great Western route for you and freight operators. We’re modernising the existing 1960s signalling – the traffic lights of the railway – which will make train services travelling through Oxford, Didcot and Reading more reliable. We’re also upgrading and remodelling the track layout around Oxford station to allow trains to travel faster.

They’re just some of the big changes we’re working on.

New link to Heathrow Airport

We’ve proposed a direct, 6.5km rail link from the west of England to Heathrow Airport to speed up your journeys to the airport.

The proposed rail connection would allow you to travel to the airport from the south coast, south-west, South Wales and West Midlands without going into London Paddington.

All trains would call at Reading and Slough and alternate trains at Twyford and Maidenhead. Journey times could be as short as 26 minutes from Reading and six to seven minutes from Slough.

It would also reduce crowding in the long term at Paddington and ease congestion on roads, lowering CO2 emissions equivalent to about 30 million road miles a year.

Protecting the railway from severe weather

The first section of the new sea wall in Dawlish is now complete

Important sections of the railway in south-west England are exposed to harsh weather so we’re working hard to better protect it. This will mean fewer delays and cancellations and help us avoid significant damage that could close parts of the railway altogether.

We’ve been developing plans to improve the resilience between Dawlish and Teignmouth in Devon since damage caused by heavy storms that led to a six-week closure of the railway in 2014.

What are we doing? Last month, we finished the first section of a new, bigger sea wall in Dawlish. It has a curved top to deflect the waves and stop them from flooding the track. Find out more about what happened in Dawlish in 2014 and why protecting it is so important.

Read more about the broader resilience project.

Repairing the Conwy Valley line

We know how important the Conwy Valley line in North Wales is to everyone who relies on it. It’s been closed again for most of this year after extreme rainfall during Storm Ciara in February washed away the ground under the tracks.

We’re working between Tal y Cafn and Llanrwst to reopen the Conwy Valley line, which runs through fields in an area prone to flooding from the River Conwy – and have nearly finished the repairs.

Extra work will help to protect the line from large-scale damage caused by bad weather and and reduce the length of any closures for emergency repairs in the future.

Damage to the Conwy Valley line after very heavy rain

Did you know?

  • Bristol Temple Meads station takes its name from the land upon which it was built. In the 12th and 13th centuries this was owned by the Knights Templar.
  • The Britannia Bridge in North Wales had the longest continuous wrought iron span in the world when engineer Robert Stephenson it built it in the 1840s. The bridge was rebuilt using the masonry supports in Stephenson’s original structure after fire devastated it in 1970.
  • Legend has it that the rising sun shines through Box Tunnel in Wiltshire on Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s birthday, 9 April. Recent research has shown that unfortunately this is not the case, although the sun does shine directly through the tunnel on several other days throughout April and again in September.