Published 23rd July 2012
LONDON - The Government has announced its outline five year spending plans from 2014 saying that this represented the largest railway investment since Victorian times.
While there is no disputing the plans are exciting and welcomed, over half of the money announced is already committed and been previously announced, concerning schemes such as completion of the Thameslink upgrade across London for example.
What the Government is dubbing ‘An £800m Electric Spine’ will be created running between Southampton and Sheffield via Reading, Oxford and Coventry linking in with already electrified routes. This will link in with the reopening as an electrified main line, the Oxford to Milton Keynes ‘Varsity Line’ line. The existing route between Bedford and Bletchley will also be electrified connecting with the Midland Main Line electrification between Bedford and Sheffield via Leicester, Derby and Nottingham.
The electric network will then link the radial routes from London via the ‘Varsity Line’ which will become the London orbital route by any other name. The Great Western electrification will also be extended beyond Cardiff to Swansea plus the Valley Lines network around Cardiff plus Newport to Ebbw Vale. There are several other infill schemes such as Walsall to Rugeley creating diversionary and alternative routes for freight and passenger services.
This announcement covers what is known as a Control Period which is a five year funding timespan and the next one runs from April 2014 to April 2019. What happens in this period is agreed by The Government and the Office of Rail Regulation in negotiation with Network Rail.
They agree what is called a High Level Output Statement (HLOS) which is exactly that, it says what should be achieved given The Statement Of Funds Available (SOFA). This is underwritten by the Government despite them claiming that Network Rail is a private company. They can borrow against their infrastructure and in a kind of mortgage arrangement which keeps the debt off the UK debt figures.
This currently stands at around £27BILLION and will rise again probably to over £30bn as a result of these plans. The upgrades will be paid for in a number of ways such as a 3% above inflation fares’ in the next two January increases, which had already been announced.
This is built around four priorities:
Secretary of State Justine Greening said that efficiency savings will help to pay for the schemes and that electrification brings operating costs down. This was echoed by First Great Western’s MD, Mark Hopwood who said that electric trains cheaper to run. And that this is great news for rail passengers and the industry as a whole we welcome the government's additional investment in the Great Western network.
"Extending electrification beyond the mainline was part of the recommendations we made as part of the Department for Transport's consultation. This news not only strengthens the case for the original electrification plan, but also extends the economic benefits to the wider communities on the network.
"This paves the way for faster, more reliable services and makes the most of planned investment in new trains, whoever has the honour of running this franchise behind April next year. "We look forward to working with partners to help develop the schemes further.”
There has been a lot of political lobbying by councils and MPs on the Bedford to Sheffield line of route for rail investment, especially since the HS2 announcement last year. After the decade-long expensive West Coast Main Line upgrade there was a sense being conveyed by these elected lobbyists that their constituents were missing out on rail investment.
Arguably, the major places on the route are Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and of course Sheffield. It would be interesting to see what the political travails of these places are, but two of them stick out.
Bombardier at Derby was the centre of the train building storm when Hitachi and Siemens have been selected as preferred bidders for new UK train fleets. This has left the Derby Works without a decent forward order book in the medium to long term. This Works is owned by Canada’s Bombardier and their Press releases are issued from their European Headquarters at Berlin, as the local PR team was stood down earlier this year. So not really a British company with profits going abroad it could be said, but it does employ local people at least!
The last new main line fleet built at Derby was the class 377 electric unit for the Thameslink route running between Bedford and Brighton. These were delivered a year late and over budget so who knows if this affected the more recent train orders going elsewhere?
And of course Nick Clegg will be happy if the wires reach his constituency of Sheffield. We are all aware of the current and potentially long term economic woes, there will be election in under three years. This, combined with the dates of the next funding period means that work will be well underway while the election is being fought it will be interesting to see how much political credit will be claimed for this at election time.
As ever in the railways, politicians love to announce the same scheme many times and only just over £4bn in the headline financial figure of £9bn is ‘new money’. The rest is already committed to the Thameslink, Crossrail and other projects such as the Northern Hub’ already under way.
Curiously, the East-West Rail Link is in the package but hidden away in the detail and this line re-opening is huge news. Should this have an interchange in the Calvert area with HS2, it would remove many objections at a stroke.
There will be disruption while the works are underway but don’t forget they will be spread over the next five to ten years. Trains will be cleaner and more frequent running on renewed infrastructure so reliability and performance should improve.
e trains will not pollute so diesel fumes will reduce which is obviously good but power still has to be generated somewhere and somehow, a fact often overlooked.
ese schemes will increase passenger numbers more than the forecast 30% in the next decade and will help road users by reducing the amount of lorries as rail freight will continue to increase. London’s underground and bus network will also benefit from trains across London and new cross country routes re-opening.
The project will boost employment opportunities along all the route upgrades and maybe even Bombardier at Derby will be able to produce a good economic case to build a new fleet of trains. Property values will also increase in the vicinity of upgraded routes as train speeds and frequency increases.
nespeeds and trains may reach 125mph as opposed to the existing 110mph maximum on some routes at the moment. Tests were carried out a few weeks ago for example on the MML, to check signal sighting and passing clearances and braking characteristics.