PLANS to electrify First Great Western’s main line through Swindon could be scrapped as the Government attempts to claw back the £1 billion set aside to fund it.

The project, introduced by the former Labour Government, was set to be completed in phases, electrifying lines first between London and Swansea through to Swindon.

The completion was scheduled to coincide with the introduction of a new fleet of electric super express trains in 2016/2017.

But in the House of Lords Earl Attlee, speaking for the Government, said during question time that there were “problems” with spending money on electrifying lines given the state of public finances. He told peers: “You will understand the problems about expenditure on electrification in the current economic climate.”

Coun Peter Greenhalgh, Swindon Council’s cabinet member for sustainability, strategic planning, property and transport, said: “We have billions of pounds of debt left by the previous Government and there are going to have to be cuts to deal with them.

“It’s disappointing news, but it’s the sort of thing we’re probably all going to have to get used to.”

Meanwhile, the Department for Transport (DfT) has moved to reassure passengers that it still supports electrification of the lines as a method of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and running costs.

A spokesman said: “We recognise that electric trains generally offer a range of further benefits to passengers – faster journey times, greater reliability and improved air quality.”

But he conceded: “We are in the early stages of the new Government and ministers are considering the full range of transport policy to ascertain what is affordable.”

A spokeswoman for Network Rail, which maintains the railways, said there was a “strong” business case for electrification but officials were still waiting for a decision from the DfT over funding of schemes.

She added: “The fact is, for the benefits of electrification to be gained, any scheme would have to coincide with the introduction of electric trains.

“This introduction of electric trains for the Great Western route is being reviewed by the Government. However, there are enormous benefits from electrification with faster, quieter, smoother, greener journeys.”

A spokeswoman for train operator First Great Western said: “Electrification is great for customers in terms of reliability and the costs of running the service.

“However, in the current economic climate, we understand that the Government has to look at value for money in terms of projects like this and we continue to talk to the Dft about its plans.”