The Company

Grayling throws three major electrification plans out the window

Posted 20th July 2017

• 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

The government has decided to call off plans to electrify a string of major routes based on the premise that bi-mode trains already provide seamless transfer from diesel power to electric, in a move the Welsh government argued “amounted to years of broken promises”.

In a statement today, transport secretary Chris Grayling announced the government would be scrapping plans to electrify the Great Western route west of Cardiff, the Midland Main Line north of Kettering, and the line between Windermere and Oxenholme.

The highly controversial move was justified with the advancement of bi-mode trains, which in theory removes the need to electrify “every line to achieve the same significant improvements to journeys”. Instead, the DfT will only press ahead with electrification “where it delivers a genuine benefit to passengers”.

Using better train technology, the government hopes to improve journeys on key routes sooner than expected “instead of carrying out disruptive electrification works along the whole of these routes”.

The next East Midlands operator, for example, will be required to deliver a new fleet of bi-mode intercity trains from 2022, which will ultimately replace plans to electrify the line north of Kettering to Sheffield and Nottingham. There will also be “further investment to come” to ensure Sheffield is ready for HS2.

Late last year, rail minister Paul Maynard had reaffirmed the DfT’s commitment to electrifying the Midland Main Line, but refused to confirm that the section north of Kettering would be finished by the already-revised date of 2023.

And because Welsh passengers will be travelling on Hitachi’s Intercity Express trains come autumn this year, Grayling believes the disruptive nature of electrification work is no longer needed.

“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,” he said. “We will only electrify lines where it provides a genuine benefit to passengers which cannot be achieved through other technologies. As a result, we no longer need to electrify the Great Western route west of Cardiff.”

Although controversial, the news will not come as a complete surprise to those who have kept an eye on the spiralling costs of the Great Western project, which more than tripled from its original budget. The Public Accounts Committee has previously described it as a “stark example of how not to run a project”, and the Rail Delivery Group concluded in March that the scheme in particular was to blame for the sluggish pace of building electric and bi-mode trains in the UK.

Writing for RTM, Lord Berkeley has also used the scheme as an example of Network Rail’s alleged inability to produce realistic costs for projects and argued the National Audit Office’s take on it made for “depressing reading for those who want a cost-effective and growing railway”.

The DfT itself has faced harsh and repeated criticism over the project’s major delays and indefinite ‘pauses’.

It also explains the government’s decision last year to convert the Hitachi Class 801 units to bi-mode operation rather than purely electric, although former rail minister Claire Perry said this was designed to ensure the trains could still enter service despite GWML electrification delays.

Instead of electrification, Grayling has floated a series of “further options” to improve journeys for Welsh passengers, including by enhancing links between key cities, introducing new direct services and refurbishing stations.

He also supports a proposal for Wales’ first privately-funded railway station at St Mellons, with the DfT keen on working with the scheme’s promoters to develop the plans further.