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Ian McDonald, a director of Railfuture, chairman of its network development committee, and expert on electrification, here discusses current policy.


ailfuture has always been a strong ad- vocate of electrification and we have

campaigned constantly for this eminently sensible strategy. We are about to update our Electrification paper (available on our website) taking account of recent Govern- ment decisions and progress already made, but adding some now very busy routes.

The announcement by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond that the Great Western electrification scheme will go ahead, and also the north western scheme for some of the busiest lines in the Manchester and Liverpool areas, is good news, and we wel- come it as a step in the right direction. All of these schemes are a good start, but are still a long way from the rolling programme of electrification recommended in the 1981 joint study by the BRB and the Department of Transport, so that the equipment and workforce with the necessary skills can be utilised continuously.

Rising oil prices and maintenance costs of heavier and more complex diesel trains have now established a strong business case for further electrification. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government still has a ma- jor programme of electrification of most busy routes in its industrial heartlands, and linking this lowland region with cities further north, even if currently pausing to re-examine some of the costs in the present economic situation.

Carbon reduction targets; a national transport strategy

The Government must meet the challenge of tackling rising carbon emissions from land transport modes quickly. The Commit- tee on Climate Change said (in its Advice to Government on the 4th Carbon Budget in 2010, covering the period 2023-27) that at least a 60% cut in domestic emissions is needed by 2030, to be on the right path to secure a 90% cut by 2050 (equivalent to 80% once emissions from aviation and shipping are factored in). If we are serious about reaching these targets, a significant investment in our railways, particularly electrified railways, is the main prospect for achieving this.

Electric power can be generated from al- 86 | rail technology magazine Jun/Jul 11

most any fuel including solar, wind, hy- dro, gas, and of course nuclear and (ide- ally much cleaner in future) coal power, although the latter two sources are them- selves not without controversy concerning their cost, environmental impacts, and ef- fectiveness. Furthermore, increased road traffic congestion is costing billions to industry every year and wasted hours for travellers.

GWML electrification

The Government’s decision to authorise electrification of the GWML only as far as Cardiff is still somewhat disappointing. The last Government proposed to electrify through to Swansea. Whilst only one train per hour from London continues through to Swansea (two at peak hours), wiring to Cardiff only means that either complicated and expensive bi-mode trains will be need- ed to maintain through services to Swan- sea, or trains will have to be diesel hauled on this section. Neither option is desirable. Also the scope to run a local train service with extra stations served and even provide some potential freight train performance enhancements seems to have been over- looked. Since the government has stated that electrification to Swansea will be kept under review we need to keep pushing for this extension.

Electrification of the Cardiff Valley lines also has a strong business case, supported by the Welsh Assembly. Since these busy lines already have frequent services with closely spaced stations, they are ideally suited to electric operation. Wiring these routes along with the main line from Lon- don, would also allow economies of scale.

Neither should in-fill schemes be forgot- ten. It is curious that electrification of the Thames Valley branches to Henley-on- Thames, Windsor and Eton, and Marlow have not even been considered. These are all short, mainly single-track branches that could be wired relatively cheaply, using simpler and cheaper equipment appropri- ate for these local routes in the way rec- ommended in the recent McNulty report. If the Reading-Basingstoke line and the Greenford branch were wired too, then it would be possible to convert almost all

suburban services on the Thames Valley route to electric operation, and even run- ning through on to Crossrail. This would allow the relatively modern DMU fleet used on these services to be cascaded to other routes.

This leaves the West of England route be- yond Newbury to Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance, where the current plan is that a residual fleet of life extended HSTs will maintain these services until at least 2025. Whilst it is feasible to keep these elderly units in service until then, they are costly to operate. How much better it would be to plan for an electric-only train fleet. Thus, we really need a campaign for electrifica- tion to Plymouth, Paignton, and Penzance by 2030 at the latest. With existing traffic levels it is difficult to make a business case for electrifying this far west, but rising oil prices, ‘peak oil’ supplies, and the lower procurement and running costs of an elec- tric-only versus bi-mode train fleet all help to strengthen the case. It would also allow electric operation of local services in the Torbay area and improvements to those on the south Devon and Cornish main line.

Midland Main Line, Cross Country, and Chiltern routes

The first two of these route groups overlap in the East Midlands and South Yorkshire, and use similar train fleets (Meridian and Voyager DEMUs which are capable of con- version to electric operation) on routes that are already partly electrified. Midland Main Line (MML) electrification is already a national priority, and was high on the list of imminent projects being considered under the last government, with exten- sion of wiring from Bedford to Kettering, Corby, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield. Railfuture is particularly con- cerned that MML electrification might be off the agenda indefinitely, if HS2 is built. This disregards the main reason for HS2’s construction, namely to provide relief and additional capacity for both passenger and freight traffic on the classic routes, not to downgrade their status, and effect econo- mies commensurate to the level of traffic diverted on to high speed lines.

Following the electrification of the MML

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