Transport secretary Chris Grayling has explained to MPs why the government went cold on rail electrification.
Giving evidence to the Commons transport select committee, Grayling explained how a better understanding of bi-mode train technology, which uses diesel and electric power, had helped change his mind on rail electrification.
“I suspect back in 2012 the electrification process seemed to be simpler and easier to achieve than it actually is,” he said.
In July last year, Grayling scrapped plans to fully electrify rail lines in South Wales, northern England and parts of the Midlands Mainline. Bi-mode trains will be introduced on these routes instead.
“We are now in a position where we are seeing the level of hybrid technology working, doable, practical and offering options for us that officials probably didn’t think were there five or six years ago,” said Grayling.
Speaking about the Kettering to Sheffield electrification, he added: “I could not see the rationale for spending £1bn, saving a minute on the journey time to Sheffield, rather than spending the money on projects elsewhere on the network which could make a genuine capacity difference.”
However, rail experts have warned that bi-mode trains are expensive to maintain and environmentally unfriendly. In December, the Department for Transport (DfT) admitted full electrification of the Midlands Mainline would deliver £271M in greenhouse gas savings over 60 years compared to £11M for bi-mode trains.
Grayling had been summoned before the transport committee for a second time over the provision of benefit-cost ratio (BCR) analysis and business case details for the now-cancelled electrification programmes.
Committee chair Lilian Greenwood said: “It’s disappointing to me that the committee are having to recall you to answer further questions as that information could have been provided in correspondence as we asked.”