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Grayling signals Bath rail electrification axe

Bath Spa station

Electrification of a key stretch of the Great Western route could be scrapped because unsightly overhead lines could spoil the appearance of the historic city of Bath.

In an interview in the Bristol Post last week, transport secretary Chris Grayling said that the new hybrid trains planned for the route will deliver significant cuts to journey times anyway, and questioned whether spending millions of pounds on electrifying some parts of the route was necessary.

The section in question is between Bath and Bristol, leading to concerns that Bristol could miss out on electrification. The Great Western Railway is introducing Hitachi’s new Intercity Express Trains this year. The train can switch mode to either operate on diesel fuel or electricity during a journey.

“The arrival of hybrid technology means we don’t have to put up unsightly overhead lines in places where either you wouldn’t want them, like historic Bath, or through attractive country areas where you are not getting the speed gains,” Grayling told the Bristol newspaper.

“And the truth is that [on] those routes into Bristol, new trains are arriving and will deliver the journey improvements anyway. So the question then becomes, do you have to put up electric cables through all of the route to deliver improvements?”

He then went on to say the new trains allowed the government to ‘think differently’ about electrification projects.

“The question is, if the train going through Bath is going to travel to Birmingham at exactly the same time, regardless of whether we have overhead cables or not, do we really want to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money putting unsightly overhead cables through Bath? The new trains allow us to think differently about these projects,” the newspaper quoted Grayling as saying.

After the interview Bath MP Ben Howlett held an urgent meeting with Grayling to discuss the issue. Howlett then released a statement saying: “To clarify, passengers from Bath will still have new bi-mode trains and a reduced journey time at the end of this year. The secretary of state was suggesting that electrified overhead power lines will not have a measurable impact for passengers and that money could be spent on other projects that would make a bigger difference.”

Network Rail has already undertaken significant works in the area in preparation for future electrification of the line, and it has track lowering between Newton Road and Cross Post bridges west of Bath planned for the coming weeks.

A Network Rail spokesman said it was still working towards electrification of the line during the CP6 five year spending programme and as far as it is concerned, it is business as normal.

In November Network Rail announced it was deferring four electrification projects along the Great Western rail route are to be deferred, including between Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads.

The decision aimed to free up between £146M and £165M in CP5.

Also in November, the National Audit Office (NAO) released a damning report into the electrification project called Modernising the Great Western railway. It said that an increase in cost of £2.1bn since 2013 to £5.58bn, a delay to the electrification of the route of at least 18 to 36 months and recent changes to the new trains order means that the programme’s value for money needs to be reassessed and the extent of electrification should be reconsidered.

New Civil Engineer has contacted the Department for Transport for a response.



Readers' comments (2)

  • Philip Alexander

    So the World Heritage city of Bath has just suddenly appeared out of nowhere, 5 years after government decided to electrify the railway line between London and Bristol. Hadn't they (and Network Rail) noticed it was there? This sort of last minute cognizance of fundamental topographical features gives the engineering profession a bad name. We already know that politicians have little common sense or intelligence so this sort of realisation by a Minister just confirms our knowledge. What is depressing is that OUR profession can allow itself to be misled or manipulated in this way.
    So how many of these sorts of changes of mind will occur during the lifetime of HS2 if this lunatic government continues with its madcap plans?
    If it and its agents (Network Rail) can't even look ahead far enough to imagine what the catenary and wires will look like when planted on an existing railway through Bath, what hope have they got to imagine and plan for ALL the various detailed features that will emerge on a greenfield site HS2 ? They haven't got a hope and we're supposed to shut up, keep quiet and allow government to commit the biggest engineering folly ever perpetrated on the country. A gigantic waste of money.

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  • Bath is a beautiful city, but the railway only really skirts the historic areas. The country is scattered with examples of Grade 1 listed stations and viaducts that have been sympathetically retro-fitted with specially designed OLE structures, and our railways and stations are cleaner and quieter as a result.

    It's a shame that electrification of a mainline railway has been sacrificed for a short term financial saving, and it's a shame that groundless conservation concerns have been used to hide a short signted decision.

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