Published: 1st October
Autumn is the Political Party Conference time and the resumption of the Northern Hub and Midland Main Line electrification projects was a shock announcement made ahead of the Network Rail project review. This so-called ‘pause’ in the schemes was ordered in June, the month after the General Election, and the review was to report back in October, and some Industry insiders expected this to be a month or two late.
So when the Transport Secretary Patrick McCloughlin announced that electrification of the Transpennine line and Midland Main Line route between Bedford, Corby and Wellingborough would resume, it was a bolt from the blue. The announcement comes just a few days before the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester – a key location in the paused electrification project.
The news was announced in an exchange of letters between The Transport Secretary and Sir Peter Hendy, Chairman of Network Rail (NR) who was asked to ‘reset’ Network Rail’s upgrade programme.
In his letter, Sir Peter says that NR should work with the Department for Transport (DfT) and Transport for the North in starting a full planning exercise to see how Transpennine electrification can be carried out to establish a firm detailed design.
This will obviously take some time and indicates that the announcement has been rushed through and the letter also says that after the initial work, actual electrification will not commence until 2018 and be completed by the end of 2022.
The letter from Sir Peter to the DfT also says that “Works on capacity and time improvements have not been paused and are continuing”. The line to Corby and Wellingborough should be electrified by 2019, just prior to the next General Election. So despite the June announcement, many will applaud NR in carrying on with the work despite the political public machinations.
The electrification between Bedford, Kettering and Corby by 2019 has to be done because the new Siemens Class 700 trains will be available by then and it would be slightly embarrassing to have new electric trains in the sidings while the intended route was diesel only.
Corby will benefit as it had an experimental train service until 1990 and then had to wait decades for another passenger service. Now it looks as though the town will really join the network so is very good news.
Much of the work has already been carried out between Bedford and Corby such as raising bridges and drilling holes for the electrification equipment so makes sense to carry on.
The line between Kettering, Leicester, Derby/Nottingham and Sheffield will be electrified by 2023 with that expenditure, along with Transpennine, being made in Control Period 6 which is the five year spending period commencing in April 2019. This will avoid overspending in the existing Control Period 5.
Significantly, the Secretary of State has accepted the proposal that Network Rail will work with the Department for Transport (DfT) and Rail North to develop a new plan for electrification of the TransPennine line between Stalybridge and Leeds and on to York and Selby. It has to be asked why then the original plan was backed by Government in the run-up to the election without question?
There is a clue in the letter which says that this is an improvement on the previous plan which only changed the power supply of the trains as the revised plan “will deliver faster journey times and significantly more capacity between Manchester, Leeds and York”.
The route’s passenger use has risen dramatically and capacity will enable 6 fast or semi-fast trains per hour, reducing the journey time between Manchester and York by up to 15 minutes by 2022. This will bring electrification on the whole of the cross-country route between Liverpool and Newcastle via Manchester, Leeds and York.
But ominously perhaps, the Secretary of State also writes that: “I recognise that there is more work to do on your overall re-plan and that successful delivery of these projects has some cost implications. This implies that the announcement was rushed out for some reason.
Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin said:
As a one nation government we are making sure every part of Britain benefits from a growing economy. Connecting up the great cities of the north is at the heart of our plan to build a Northern Powerhouse. This government will see the job through and build a better, faster and more reliable railway for passengers in the north and Midlands.
Chairman of Network Rail Sir Peter Hendy said:
“The temporary pause in the programme has given us the space to develop a better plan for passengers. People can expect more services and faster journeys. We face some difficult challenges, and there is more work still to do, but the Secretary of State’s decision means we can now move forward with our plans to electrify TransPennine and Midland Mainline”.