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Grayling delays rail cash decision and scraps electrification plans

Network Rail
  • Three rail electrification schemes canned
  • Transport secretary delays cash announcement for Network Rail saying he needs more assurances
  • ORR to probe Network Rail’s progress in working out costs of maintenance and renewals

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has scrapped plans to electrify sections of rail on the Midland Main Line and in South Wales and the North of England.

The news comes as Grayling publishes the high-level output specification (HLOS), which says what Network Rail needs to do during its next funding control period, CP6. However Grayling didn’t, as expected, outline how much money Network Rail would get. Instead the decision was stalled as he said he was seeking further assurances on the cost of the programme. The scrapped electrification schemes were expected to be in CP6 but it is understood the government has lost some confidence in rail electrification following the massive cost overrun of the Great Western route.

The three rail electrification schemes have been scrapped in favour of the introduction of bi-mode trains, powered by  electricity and diesel. The trains are already scheduled to come into service on the Great Western route by the Autumn.

The scrapped schemes are on the line from north of Kettering to Sheffield and Nottingham, the Great Western route west between Cardiff and Swansea and the line between Windermere and Oxenholme in the North.

Grayling said: “New bi-mode train technology offers seamless transfer from diesel power to electric that is undetectable to passengers. The industry is also developing alternative fuel trains, using battery and hydrogen power. This means that we no longer need to electrify every line to achieve the same significant improvements to journeys, and we will only electrify lines where it delivers a genuine benefit to passengers.”

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne added: “The advance of train technology and hybrid, bi-mode trains, enables us to deliver significant passenger benefits without the need to electrify every mile of railway on a particular route. Electrification still has its place where it can be shown to deliver passenger benefits.”

But rail experts within the industry have spoken out against bi-mode trains saying the engines are heavy and expensive to maintain and are environmentally unfriendly.

Arup director Tim Chapman said: “The UK’s main efforts to counter poor air quality and climate change rely on decarbonisation of the electricity grid and then electrification of transport – the burning bridge that was stimulating a great increase in UK electrification was the need to buy new fleets of trains to replace ancient outdated ones at the end of their lives.

“The purchase of many new bi-mode trains reduces that urgent need to electrify main lines for both freight and passengers – but doesn’t obviate the vital efforts to counter air pollution and climate change. Any slowing down of rail electrification is therefore to be regretted.”

For the next Network Rail funding period, called control period 6 (CP6), Grayling said that there would have to be more renewals activity, which will be “supported by appropriate volumes of operations and maintenance activity required to maintain safety and improve the reliability and punctuality of train services.”

However Grayling said he is seeking more assurances on the cost of the programme.

He said: “Network Rail’s progress on improving its efficiency in recent years has fallen short of my expectations. Improving efficiency is vital if we are to maximise the value of taxpayer spending on the railway in driving improvements for passengers and freight shippers.

“The government will therefore carry out further work to examine the approach to setting appropriate levels of maintenance and renewals activity for control period 6 and to improving Network Rail’s efficiency. This will enable me to confirm the extent of government’s funding envelope through the publication of a statement of funds available by 13 October 2017.”

The news comes as Network Rail released its annual report yesterday which revealed its level of debt has risen by almost £5bn in the last year.

Carne said in response: “We welcome the Government’s announcement today which recognises the need for our railways to prosper and to continue to be supported and invested in. We will work closely with Government and the industry over the coming months to develop our plans for further improvements for our railway in the five years to 2024.”

Suppliers said it was certainty about future priorities that enabled them to deliver efficiently.

Rail Supply Group chair Gordon Wakeford said: “Going forward, we urge Government and Network Rail to pay careful attention to the issues that can be caused at the end of a control period and the start of another, but we welcome today’s first major step in the CP6 process and, as a supply chain, look forward to working with them on this basis.”

Rail Delivery Group chief executive Paul Plummer said : “The railway is crucial to the economy and to the communities and customers it serves so it is right to allow extra time to ensure that decisions about how it is funded are got right. It is crucial that routes, operators and suppliers continue to work together more closely at a local level to help inform these decisions and drive even greater efficiency in the industry.”

The Office for Rail and Road (ORR) said it would be commissioning a further study by an independent consultant into Network Rail’s progress in developing its proposals on the efficient level of maintenance and renewals spend needed.

Readers' comments (2)

  • I find it strange that the government one week announces the scrapping of electrification plans and the introduction of bi-modal trains, partly running on diesel, then the following week they announce the end of petrol and diesel powered vehicles by 2040. If they are that committed to electrical powered vehicles why not push forward with the rail electrification? Doesn't seem like joined up thinking or one department talking to another.

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  • Philip Alexander

    When did government departments ever embrace joined up thinking? Completely agree with John, it's a perfect example of the disjointed way that transport is treated within government, revolving ministers who take no real interest in the challenge of getting it right, merely seeing the portfolio as a stepping stone to others.

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