Thursday, July 20, 2017

News: MML electrification stopped in its tracks

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The Government has pulled the plug on completing a £1.5 billion project to electrify the key rail line to Sheffield.

The Midland Mainline (MML) is a key route between London St Pancras and the Sheffield city region via the East Midlands. The scheme was set to deliver more seats, improved performance and more space for freight on one of Britain's oldest railways.

Now, instead of the line being electrified beyond Kettering, new bi-mode intercity trains are to be introduced from 2022 that are able to run on both electrified and non-electrified lines. Currently, some trains operating on the route are 40 years old.

Franchising is underway for new operators of the route and one of the key aims is to separate the intercity and commuter markets to improve the services for both. Long distance services from Nottingham and Sheffield are expected to be cut by up to 20 minutes, by reducing the number of calls to pick up commuters, alongside the line speed improvements. Journey timnes from Sheffield to London are set to be around two hours at peak times.

Delivering over 1,000 additional seats in a peak hour, an increase of more than 50%, is expected to relieve over-crowding on all East Midlands services to and from London.

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Network Rail, the owners and operators of Britain's rail infrastructure, had planned to electrify the Midland Mainline 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 the Government who had concerns over the performance of Network Rail. A new Network Rail chief, Sir Peter Hendy was brought in and proposed that line speed and capacity improvement works already in hand were 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.

Earlier this year, the Sheffield City Region Combined Authority wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport asking him to reaffirm the Government's commitment to phase 2 of the MML electrification to Sheffield by 2023.

Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and Sheffield City Council had 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.

A Government statement said that new technology meant 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."

The provision of new bi-mode trains will now "replace plans to electrify the line north of Kettering to Sheffield and Nottingham, improving journeys sooner, without the need for wires and masts on the whole route, and causing less disruption to services.

The Government also added that there will be further investment to come to ensure Sheffield is HS2-ready. Electrification is needed on the HS2 spur line to serve Chesterfield and Sheffield.

For Rotherham, it continues to be a waiting game. As the HS2 line is set to head through the borough to Leeds, work on a potential parkway station continues. A northern loop out of Sheffield Midland to create faster links to Leeds is expected, and in theory could serve Rotherham, but nothing has been decided on this yet despite the recent HS2 announcement.

It is also the case that a new £14m mainline station is the the only practical and cost effective way to enhance rail connectivity to Rotherham.

In 2015, Rail North, a group of transport organisation across the North of England, put forward that the Northern Rail route between Sheffield and Doncaster that passes through Rotherham and the Dearne Valley should be electrified at the earliest opportunity.

Chris Grayling MP, the Secretary of State for Transport, said: "The Government has agreed that an increased volume of renewals activity will be needed over the course of control period 6 [spending between 2019-2024], to maintain safety and improve on current levels of reliability and punctuality, which in places fall short of the levels that passengers rightly expect.

"Before committing to the specific levels of funding required, I have decided that the government requires more assurance on the likely costs of the work programme.

"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."

Network Rail website

Images: Network Rail


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