NETWORK Rail has welcomed the Government’s announcement that it will support a £1.1 billion rolling programme of rail electrification, starting with the Great Western main line between London, Cardiff and Swansea and the Liverpool to Manchester route.
The Great Western scheme will include the wires going up on the routes to Oxford and Newbury but electrification of the Midland main line – a contender for many years – is not included in the current announcement.
Network Rail’s chief executive Iain Coucher said: “Today is a good start, but there is much further to go.
“Network Rail has been pushing for electrification for a long time. Indeed in 2007 – along with the Association of Train Operating Companies – we urged the Department for Transport to take the issue seriously.
“Network Rail will deliver the schemes announced today. Passengers will soon reap the benefits that electrified lines bring – quieter and smoother rides on trains that cause less wear and tear to the track, trains that are more reliable and often faster.
“Also, further electrification will also help open up more diversionary routes so that we can keep people on trains and off buses as we carry out planned rail improvement work.”
Prime Minister Gordon Brown and transport secretary Lord Adonis unveiled the plans for the first major electrification programme since the late 1980s – when the East Coast route was electrified – at Paddington station before travelling to Cardiff for a Cabinet meeting.
Mr Brown said: “To build a better Britain, we must be bold, innovative and forward-looking and invest with confidence in our country’s transport infrastructure, jobs and industry. This electrification programme is vital to building a 21st century transport system.”
Lord Adonis said: “It is essential that we invest in our railways now and over the longer term. This is the biggest electrification programme for a generation and a vital part of our rail investment and carbon reduction strategies. It will be of huge benefit to passengers who will gain from faster, cleaner and more reliable trains.
“Electrification of the Great Western main line will bring significant new strategic opportunities for developing rail services. In particular it would be possible to run Crossrail services west of the existing proposed terminus at Maidenhead, through to Reading.
“I look forward to discussing with the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the potential for developing new services and integrating these major Crossrail and electrification programmes.
“Electrification of the Liverpool to Manchester line also makes possible the through-running of electric trains from Manchester Airport and Manchester to Scotland. At present these services are diesel because the last stretch of line into Manchester is not electrified. This will be a major strategic benefit to passengers in the north of England and Scotland.”
First Minister for Wales Rhodri Morgan said: “I’m delighted that this major modernisation, the first rail electrification in Wales, will boost travel links to and within Wales. It will improve connections between London, Cardiff and Swansea and make a rail journey between London and Swansea almost 20 minutes shorter. We need to work closely now to ensure these exciting plans dovetail with our own National Transport Plan.”
The Great Western main line scheme will mean the focus on major engineering on the railway network will switch from the West Coast main line. Plans are already advanced for the £425 million major upgrade and remodelling of Reading station to prevent train bottlenecks and delays.
The Government says it will consider the case for further electrification, particularly in respect of the Midland Main Line (between London, Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield) and routes between Manchester and Preston and Liverpool and Preston in the coming months.
Currently only 40 per cent of the rail network is electrified, including most of the south east of England, and the main lines from London to Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as the Merseyrail network around Liverpool and the Glasgow suburban network.
The Government announcement follows Network Rail’s publication of a wide-ranging strategy for electrification in May this year.
The NR strategy recommends electrifying the busiest 3,000 miles of non-electrified lines including the western route from Paddington to Bristol and Swansea and the Midland Main line from St Pancras to Derby and Sheffield.
Strategic infill would also provide benefits, opening up new routes for electric passenger and freight trains, such as Manchester to Liverpool.
The strategy, currently under consultation, outlined the clear benefits of a rolling programme of electrification: lower CO2 emissions, higher levels of train reliability and availability and lower leasing costs.
Network Rail says the superior acceleration of electric trains can also help reduce journey times while providing more seats than diesel trains, therefore increasing capacity.
The company’s concept to install overhead wires is based around a mobile electrification ‘factory’ concept designed to operate with minimal disruption to the railway while providing a safe working environment for engineers.
The concept includes three piling trains and one wiring train which will operate in tandem as one single ‘factory’ unit.
Network Rail said the announcement from the government that it will support Network Rail’s plans for electrification is good news for passengers, the economy and the environment.
The programme is expected to be funded through Network Rail borrowing supported by government and by increases in track access charges.
Expanding the electrified network has been a long-held ambition for Network Rail and the company says it is now putting its detailed plans into place to install overhead lines efficiently, at an affordable cost and with minimal disruption.
The Liverpool-Manchester route is expected to be completed within four years and for London-Swansea within eight years, although stages in between will be completed earlier.
The Government says the Great Western electrification will also make possible the direct replacement of the ageing Intercity 125 fleet by the proposed electric Super Express intercity trains, and by hybrid diesel/ electric Super Express trains to serve destinations beyond the electrified network.
This, and other replacements of diesel by electric trains, is expected to yield significant savings in train leasing and operating costs, as well as benefiting passengers with more reliable and quieter trains.
The Government also announced today that a new rolling stock deployment plan, taking into account the new electrification, will be published in the autumn.
It is expected that ministers and Department for Transport officials will be looking at the plans to build more diesel trains as, in the light of the electrification programme, less diesels may be needed.