According to the BBC—and who are we to doubt them?—the Government is going to announce the electrification of the Great Western line later today. Those who hang on to my every word in Parliament and on this blog—and if not, why not?—will know I've been calling for this for some time. Last time I asked Geoff Hoon about this in the Chamber, I thought he'd been distinctly encouraging, but it's good to have confirmation. The only downside is that it will take eight years in total, but still at least it's been given the green light. Or should that be the green signal?
Actually, the eight years to completion is very far from being the only downside.
According to the BBC article, electrification carries significant benefits.
A £1bn plan to electrify the main rail route between London and Swansea has been announced by the government.
A second line between Liverpool and Manchester will also be converted from diesel to electric.
Ministers say electric trains are lighter and more energy efficient, cutting the running cost and environmental impact of train services.
OK, so these are all benefits to the train operator, right? It will make the train services cheaper to run, yes?
So why the fuck is the taxpayer footing the £1 billion bill?
Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said: "Yet again Labour are maxing out Network Rail's credit card, leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill."
Transport Secretary Lord Adonis told the BBC the massive investment involved would be worth it.
"With the electric trains you get a quieter, cleaner, more reliable and much cheaper train which benefits passengers and it also benefits the taxpayers because it's much cheaper to keep an electric railway going," he said.
Good, that's excellent. So we'll be seeing a corresponding drop in the massive taxpayer subsidy to the train operator, will we? If the taxpayer is stumping up £1 billion to electrify the line for which all of the benefits will accrue to the train operator, then we will, presumably, be cutting their subsidy, will we?
Anyone? Bueller? Bueller...?