Thursday, October 1, 2015

News: Midland Mainline electrification "unpaused"

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A £1.5 billion electrification project to bring newer, faster and more reliable trains on the key route between London and the Sheffield city region is back on track after the new head of Network Rail gave it a new completion date - three years after it was originally planned to complete.

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, was controversially paused by Patrick McLoughlin MP, the Secretary of State for Transport, when he said that Network Rail's performance has not been good enough and that he was resetting its investment programme to get it back on track.

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."

In an update, new Network Rail chief, Sir Peter Hendy is proposing that line speed and capacity improvement works already in hand are added to, with electrification of the line north of Bedford to Kettering and Corby by 2019 and the line North of Kettering to Leicester, Derby/Nottingham and Sheffield by 2023.

Network Rail is continuing to look at costs as the completion of the project slips into the next control period, CP6. A new plan for electrification of the TransPennine line between Stalybridge and Leeds and on to York and Selby is also being developed.

Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin said: "As a one nation government we are making sure every part of Britain benefits from a growing economy. Connecting up the great cities of the north is at the heart of our plan to build a Northern Powerhouse. This government will see the job through and build a better, faster and more reliable railway for passengers in the north and Midlands."

Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, added: "The temporary pause in the programme has given us the space to develop a better plan for passengers. People can expect more services and faster journeys. We face some difficult challenges, and there is more work still to do, but the Secretary of State's decision means we can now move forward with our plans to electrify TransPennine and Midland Mainline."

The projects will be tied to the awarding of the Northern and TransPennine rail franchises, which will be announced before the end of the year.

Councillor Sir Stephen Houghton CBE, Chair of the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority, said: "Whilst it is good news that Network Rail will restart electrification work on the Midland Mainline, I am extremely disappointed that it will now take a further four years to complete. I would urge the Government to revisit this decision and look for ways in which this important programme can be sped-up. The prompt delivery of this electrification work is a vital part of our plans to build an economic powerhouse in the North."

James Newman, Chairman of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, added: "Whilst business leaders will welcome news that the programme has been restarted, there will be widespread disappointment in the decision to delay the project by four years. The delay to this work will impact on many rail businesses in the Sheffield City Region, as well the various supply chains which will have been readying themselves for work to be completed so much sooner."

Network Rail website

Images: Network Rail

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