Friday, June 26, 2015

News: Government pulls plug on electrification of Midland Mainline

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A £1.5 billion electrification project that would bring newer, faster and more reliable trains on the key route between London and the Sheffield city region ten years before HS2, has been "paused" by the Government.

Network Rail, the owners and operators of Britain's rail infrastructure, finalised its five year investment programme to 2019 (known as control period 5, or CP5) last year. It contained finalised plans to electrify the Midland Mainline (MML) north of Bedford, working north. It was set to reach Corby at the end of 2017; Nottingham and Derby at the end of 2019 and Sheffield at the end of 2020.

The scheme, which was set to deliver more seats, improved performance and more space for freight on one of Britain's oldest railways, is on hold. In a speech that highlighted where Network Rail's performance has not been good enough, Patrick McLoughlin MP, the Secretary of State for Transport, said that he was resetting Network Rail's investment programme to get it back on track.

Whilst reaffirming that electrification of the Great Western Line is a top priority, the Transport Secretary said: "On the Midland Mainline better services can be delivered on that line before electrification. With things such as speed improvement works. So work on electrification will be paused.

"I want it to be done and done well. It will be part of our future plans for the route."

The Government had challenged Network Rail to re-prioritise the roll-out of the programme, for example by bringing electrification to Sheffield into CP5. With costs rising rapidly from the initial £500m estimate, Network Rail said that it couldn't bring forward the programme due to "lead-in time for a National Grid connection at Chesterfield and the unacceptable disruption that early completion would bring."

Now work has been paused, as has work electrifying the Transpennine route between Leeds and Manchester.

From Network Rail's own documents it was anticipated that electrification of Sheffield – Doncaster; Swinton to South Kirkby Junction; and Chesterfield – Beighton Junction – Rotherham; would be part of an on going rolling programme of electrification to complete these parts of the "Electric Spine" after 2020.

Earlier this year, Rail North, a group of transport organisation across the North of England presented its latest report to the Transport Secretary outlining future electrification of rail links in the region, putting economic growth and connectivity at the heart of their considerations.

With no clear commitment on how much needed improvements will be made, and when, yesterday's decision has been described as a blow to the Government's own "Northern Powerhouse" concept and attacked by rival politicians for being made after the elections.

Cllr. Julie Dore, leader of Sheffield Council, said yesterday: "Electrification of the Midland Mainline is vital for improving transport connectivity for Sheffield and an integral part of building the economic growth we all want to see in the region. It is essential that the Government honour the promises that they made on electrification and today's announcement is a blow for those of us committed to building a stronger North of England. We call for this decision to be reversed immediately."

Network Rail website

Images: Network Rail

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