DfT scraps electrification schemes

• Bi mode trains to be used instead of ‘intrusive’ electrification
• Cities affected include Swansea, Sheffield, Derby, Nottingham
• Electrification ‘still has its place’, says DfT and Network Rail
• Emphasis in CP6 is on renewals, not network enhancements
• Detailed Statement of Funds Available is deferred until autumn

updated 12.50

ELECTRIFICATION schemes between Cardiff and Swansea, north of Kettering to Sheffield, and between Windermere and Oxenholme have been cancelled by the Department for Transport.

Instead, these routes will rely on the ‘new technology’ of bi-mode trains, the DfT said. 

Meanwhile, transport secretary Chris Grayling has postponed a government commitment on future railway investment, saying that ‘Network Rail’s progress on improving its efficiency in recent years has fallen short of my expectations’.

On the electrification u-turn, the DfT continued: “Passengers will benefit sooner and experience less disruption compared with putting up intrusive wires and masts along routes where they are no longer required.”

Chris Grayling said: “From Autumn 2017, passengers in Wales will benefit from new Intercity Express trains which will each deliver over 130 more seats, faster journey times and improved connectivity for South Wales to London with 40 per cebt more seats in the morning peak once the full fleet is in service. 

“These innovative new trains switch seamlessly between electric and diesel power, delivering faster journeys and more seats for passengers without disruptive work to put up wires and masts along routes where they are no longer required.

“Rapid delivery of passenger benefits, minimising disruption and engineering work should always be our priority and as technology changes we must we must reconsider our approach to modernising the railways. We will only electrify lines where it provides a genuine benefit to passengers.”

Network Rail agreed that ‘electrification still has its place’ in certain cases, while Opposition politicians have reacted with dismay.

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne said: “The advance of train technology and hybrid, bi-mode trains, enables us to deliver significant passenger benefits without the need to electrify every mile of railway on a particular route. Electrification still has its place where it can be shown to deliver passenger benefits.”

The scheme to extend Great Western electrification past Cardiff to Swansea was added to the project at a relatively late stage. More recently, GW electrification had already been trimmed back, omitting Oxford, Newbury and Bristol Temple Meads, along with two Thames Valley branches.

Labour's shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald said:  “The Tories have been promising the electrification of the Great Western Main Line from Paddington to Swansea since 2012 and today’s announcement confirms that they have been taking people for a ride.

“The cancellation of works means passengers will be denied the faster, greener, more reliable train journeys they were promised, and South Wales will miss out on the economic activity that improved rail services deliver.

“The decision betrays a promise to South Wales and the transport secretary sneaking out the news on the final day before he goes on his summer holidays adds insult to injury.”

The DfT has also launched its consultation into the next East Midlands franchise today. Transport secretary Chris Grayling told Parliament: “The next operator will be required to deliver modern, fast and efficient trains. This includes a brand new fleet of bi-mode intercity trains from 2022, delivering more seats and comfort for long-distance passengers. The provision of these trains will replace plans to electrify the line north of Kettering to Sheffield and Nottingham, improving journeys sooner, without the need for wires and masts on the whole route, and causing less disruption to services. We do not intend to proceed with plans to electrify the line from Kettering to Sheffield and Nottingham, and there will be further investment to come to ensure Sheffield is HS2-ready.”

Meanwhile, Northern said that a newly-converted bi-mode version of the cascaded Class 319 Thameslink units will be used on the Lakes Line to Windermere.

Regional director Sharon Keith said: “The ‘Flex trains’, which will be redesignated as class 769s, are currently being converted from existing class 319s and are planned to be introduced to the network from May 2018. These will ensure our customers in the Lake District are able to benefit from the electrified route south of the national park and travel direct to Windermere – all on a fully refurbished dual fuel train.”

New diesel trains built by CAF for Northern are due to follow the 769s into service in 2019.

The electrification announcement has come at the same time as the publication of High Level Output Specifications from the government, which set out railway ambitions for the five years from 2019, Network Rail’s Control Period 6.

Emphasis is being placed on renewals rather than enhancements, but more information about future projects has been promised for later in the year, and no figure has been given in the present ‘Statement of Funds Available’, the financial details of which have been deferred until October.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling said: “The HLOS is focused on the operation, maintenance and renewal of the existing railway – the areas of activity that will deliver a more reliable railway for passengers. The government is already delivering significant enhancements to the railway, including High Speed 2 and Crossrail and it expects to continue to invest in the enhancement to the wider rail network in the next control period. In light of the findings of the Bowe Review, which emphasised the need to enable better planning, cost control and alignment with the needs of users of the railway, government will take forward the funding of these enhancements separately. The government is developing a new process for delivering enhancements and intends to publish more information on this in the autumn.”

He also warned: “Before committing to the specific levels of funding required, I have decided that the government requires more assurance on the likely costs of the work programme. Network Rail’s progress on improving its efficiency in recent years has fallen short of my expectations. Improving efficiency is vital if we are to maximise the value of taxpayer spending on the railway.”

Lianna Etkind of the Campaign for Better Transport said: “While we welcome a commitment to renewals and resilience, this HLOS has a troubling lack of commitment to investing our country’s rail infrastructure. Despite record passenger numbers and unprecedented farebox revenue, a ‘pipeline approach’ risks becoming an excuse for the Government to step back from the ambitious infrastructure projects passengers so badly need.”

“Five years ago, the Government were trumpeting the biggest investment in the railways since the Victorians. Today, passengers face spiralling fares while investment is put on the back burner. Passengers in the north will feel most cheated by today’s announcement, given that long-delayed TransPennine and Midlands electrification projects seem to have been dropped."

Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: “The emphasis from Government on maintaining and improving the reliability of existing services is welcome – this is a key rail passenger priority for improvement.

“Passengers will be looking for the benefits that might have come with electrification of services to still be on track. More reliable services, more seats and new trains will clearly be welcome. The focus on improving value for money for passengers is good. Much needed investment in the railways is being made by passengers and the taxpayer. Passengers should pay their share of that investment but has the government got the right balance between taxpayer and passenger funding?”

Peter Loosley, policy director of the Railway Industry Association, said: “We strongly welcome the Government’s recommendation to the Office of Rail and Road that that there should be greater supply chain certainty. We wholeheartedly echo the Department for Transport’s backing for good visibility of Network Rail project pipelines to help offer reassurance to the railway supply sector and to encourage investment in skills, technology and innovation.

 “The railway supply industry is ready to rise to the challenge of delivering a increased volume of renewals during Control Period 6.”

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