Wednesday, November 9, 2016

News: Government vague over MML electrification reaching SCR

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Local MPs are calling on the Government to provide a date for when the £1.5 billion electrification project for newer, faster and more reliable trains on the key route from London will reach the Sheffield city region.

A debate in Westminster heard the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Maynard, say that the Government has committed to the electrification of the Midland Mainline (MML) from London to Kettering and Corby by 2019 but development work is continuing on further electrification of the route to Sheffield.

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) in 2014. 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 project was controversially "paused" by Patrick McLoughlin MP, the then 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.

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The project was then "unpaused" at the end of 2015 when Network Rail proposed 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.

When asked to commit to the 2023 timescale by Sheffield South East MP, Clive Betts, the minister replied: "We are continuing to develop the electrification proposals. What we are focusing on today is ensuring that we have better quality train services on the inter-city routes by ensuring that the longer distance trains have fewer stopping places south of Kettering. Therefore, we are continuing that development work.

"We are electrifying the line from St Pancras to Corby and Kettering to enable faster journeys for commuters on that route, and then we are continuing the development work as planned to ensure that we continue to improve services to Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield, as we laid out."

The electrification of the Midland Mainline comes at the same time as the East Midlands franchise comes up for renewal, in 2019.

Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Sheffield City Council has been making the case to the Government on measures needed to boost the city region's rail services.

These include new Inter-City-style high speed trains; six trains an hour from London St Pancras to Corby, Derby, Nottingham or Sheffield; and three trains per hour from London to Sheffield with one train heading on beyond Sheffield to Leeds and one to Manchester/Liverpool.

Meanwhile, on the East Coast line, Virgin Trains is introducing new services between London and Doncaster with 5,000 extra seats on the route between York and London over the course of a week.

The changes to the timetable come as Virgin Trains nears completion of a total overhaul of its trains ahead of the introduction of the state-of-the-art fleet of new Azuma trains in 2018.

Images: Network Rail


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