Transport secretary Chris Grayling cancelled the electrification of sections of the Midlands Mainline knowing that the alternative required bi-mode trains which “did not exist”, an investigation has found.
Bi-mode trains can run on diesel fuel and switch to overhead electrification systems. They were put forward by Grayling as way of improving services on the Midland Mainline north of Kettering without the need to fully electrify the line. He was told in March 2017 that the technology to run the required service with these trains did not exist but cancelled the electrification programme regardless, according to a report published by the NAO
The transport secretary said that the next East Midlands franchise operator would have to deliver a new fleet of bi-mode intercity trains on the line from 2022. But the NAO report says that, “the Department was still uncertain whether existing bi-modes could be modified to achieve the speed and acceleration required”, when the announcement was made.
It said: “At the time of the decision to cancel in March 2017, officials had advised the Secretary of State that the bi-mode rolling stock with the required speed and acceleration did not exist. They said that the maximum speed of bi-mode trains being built at the time was 100 miles per hour in diesel mode and that the acceleration was not sufficient to meet the timetable of the route.”
On announcing the cancellation of three electrification schemes - the Midlands Mainline, the Great Western Main Line between Cardiff and Swansea, and the Lakes Line between Oxenholme and Windermere - in July last year Grayling said: “New bi-mode train technology offers seamless transfer from diesel power to electric that is undetectable to passengers.”
The NAO report says it is too early to tell whether the benefits of electrification to passengers, the environment and the taxpayer, via lower costs to the Department for Transport, will be fully achieved.
The decision to scrap the schemes was slammed by regional leaders as it was announced days after Grayling backed London’s £31bn Crossrail 2 project.
Responding to the NAO report, a DfT spokesperson said: “We are investing in the biggest modernisation of our railway since the Victorian era, spending billions of pounds across the country to deliver faster, more frequent and more comfortable services with more seats.
“As this response makes clear, we are focused on delivering better trains and services to passengers more quickly at better value for money for the taxpayer, without the significant disruption to services that electrification can cause.”