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15 July 2011, 05:00
Plans by Network Rail to spend £5 billion upgrading the train service through the Thames Valley will bring millions to our local economy.
The 10 year investment programme will provide more seats and shorter journey times on the Great Western route as well as a massive boost to the economies of the Thames Valley and the south west of England.
The train operator reckons that the benefits to the regions' economies over the next 30 years will be double the amount invested.
It will also potentially bring new rail journey opportunities for key urban centres, including Reading, Oxford, Swindon, Bath and Bristol, boosting these economies by an additional £200m.
See a video of the plans here
Heart's been told it's the largest revamp of the Great Western railway since it was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel 175 years ago.
The programme was unveiled on Thursday by transport secretary Philip Hammond and Network Rail chief executive David Higgins.
Speaking at the launch event at London Paddington station, David Higgins said the investment would turn the Great Western into "the most advanced intercity railway in Britain" and would help drive economic growth across the region.
Electrification, resignalling and new trains will improve journeys and provide the extra capacity needed to cater for a predicted 51% increase in passengers travelling on the route over the next 30 years.
David Higgins, chief executive of Network Rail, said:
"Today sees the start of an unprecedented period of investment in the Great Western. The planned improvements will provide a bigger and better railway for passengers, help support and drive economic growth and allow our regions to thrive. By the end of the decade, the Great Western main line will be the most advanced intercity railway in Britain, setting the standard for twenty-first century rail and providing the capacity we need to cater for the continued increase in the popularity of rail travel."
Tim Smith, MBE, from Reading UK CIC - the company that develops the town said;
"The ability to do business face to face is still more important to local buisnesses than teleconferencing or conference calls - obviously having a brilliant rail service is critical to achieveing that."
A recent survey of more than 800 passengers and businesses found that having more seats on trains was by far the most desired improvement, followed by improved punctuality and shorter journey times.
The same survey found that the majority of people think the improvement will help boost the local economy, underlining the link between fast, efficient rail links and economic growth. In addition, nearly half of all business respondents said they would use or recommend train travel after the improvement work is complete.
Around 72% of respondents said that any short-term disruption will be worth the long-term gains that the improvements will bring.
To keep disruption to a minimum, Network Rail is working closely with its rail industry partners, suppliers and potential contractors to explore new and innovative ways of working. The industry will also be putting in place lessons learned from the Reading redevelopment project, which was recently singled out by Passenger Focus as an example of best practice for keeping passengers informed during major work.