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DfT rejects proposed winter resilience third rail working group

The Department for Transport (DfT) does not believe that the government should establish a third rail working group nor should it have oversight of airports’ snow plans, it said in its response to a House of Commons Transport Committee winter resilience report.

In the previous special report entilted Keeping the UK Moving: The impact on transport of the winter weather in December 2010, the cross-party committee of MPs called on the transport secretary to convene a working group with Network Rail and train operators to discuss ways of making the third rail network more resilient. The 4,827km third rail network south of the Thames is known to be one of the more vulnerable railways because it runs through rural areas prone to heavy snowfall.

However, the DfT’s response stated that the government did not “believe that there would be any benefit from creating a new working group”, adding that a report examining replacement of the third rail with overhead electrification would be published soon.

The DfT also did not agree with the committee’s recommendation to provide a senior official to oversee airports’ snow plans saying that “the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), as the UK’s independent aviation regulator, is the most appropriate body to provide the necessary oversight”.

Recommendation 10 from Keeping the UK Moving

We recommend that the Secretary of State convene a third rail working group, bringing together Network Rail, the train operators, and other interested parties, including passenger groups, to assess how the network south of the Thames can be made more resilient, focusing in the first instance on quick fixes for next winter and then devising costed options for more extensive work for the next Network Rail control period. Wealso recommend that the Secretary of State should commit the Government to the long-term aim of replacing theexisting third rail network with a more resilient form of electrification. The working group should consider how thiscan be achieved and report to Government with an estimate of timescale and cost. We recommend that this reportshould be published in due course.

DfT Reponse: The Rail Industry’s National Task Force (NTF) is already leading a number of workstreams intendedto build on lessons from last winter’s operational difficulties, and to mitigate the third rail network’s exposure tosevere winter weather in good time for next winter. The Government does not believe that there would be any benefit from creating a new working group to oversee this work. The rail industry is assessing the case for replacing the third rail system over time with an overhead electrification system. Such a system would be moreenergy efficient as well as providing better resilience in severe winter weather. The industry’s findings are expected to be published later in the summer. However, at this stage it would be premature to commit to the very substantial investment which such a change would involve.

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