Campaign for more Electrification

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This is an ongoing campaign, and supported by some of the industry’s household names.

In their ‘About Us’ page, they make this observation:

“We passionately believe that a rolling programme of electrification will radically improve the UK Railway. The UK has suffered from too many boom and bust infrastructure projects. A steady, planned, rolling programme will reduce costs, speed up journey times, create more seats on more reliable trains – and ultimately reduce ticket prices.”

It is time to drive this particular campaign forward, and the ‘stop-start’ approach that has dogged Britain’s rail network for decades needs to change.

https://www.railwayelectrification.org

The most recent activity is an open letter to Grant Shapps:

twitter.com/rail_elec/status/1230540138486390784

Elec Letter

HS2 – Off We Go – Better Late than Never?

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Well, now it’s official, HS2 gets the go ahead by the Government – well, as far as Birmingham at least, since that’s the only bit that has been sanctioned by Act of Parliament.  The arguments will continue to rage about its benefits and certainly its costs, but those who are using the environment to plead against the project have already lost, and hedgerows and woodlands, as well as houses will disappear.

The main argument in favour of the London to Birmingham link now being advanced is that of increased rail capacity, which it must be assumed is that removing passengers travelling on the existing London to Birmingham link will move to HS2.  That it is said will free up the paths on the WCML for freight, and other, regional and semi-fast connections.  The questions that this now raises is how will that freed up capacity be allocated, how will it be regulated – unless of course the rail network is nationalised, there will be further negotiations around passenger train franchising.

 

Of course it will not ‘rebalance the economy’ as one commentator offered on the TV news today, but it could be seen as starting in the wrong place and going in the wrong direction, as another commentator implied.  It should, as is widely acknowledged now, have started as HS3, linking the northern towns and cities, between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, etc., and then driven south towards the midlands.  One politician on the TV commented that, as a midlands MP it would help him get to Westminster quicker, and would provide a jobs boost for commuters to London.

Then, there is the technology question, and interoperation and compatibility with existing high speed train services – unless these just stop at interchange stations, and passengers change platforms from one train to another.  Of course, the other infrastructure element that needs investment is the power supply.

Back in 2000, there was a great deal of concern about the supply of electricity from the national grid to key areas and sections of the WCML, but I imagine that this will not trouble HS2 for a while yet – nor when it runs alongside the existing routes?

This is a vital piece of work, not only from the UK’s railway industry, but it MUST be only the start of projects that “rebalance the economy“, and it is ESSENTIAL that HS3, or Northern Powerhouse Rail follows.   The Railway Industry Association CEO, Darren Caplan made the following comments:

“The Railway Industry Association and our members support the Government’s decision today to get HS2 done, a decision that could unlock a new ‘golden age of rail’.

“HS2 will not just boost the UK’s economy and connectivity, but will also enable other major rail infrastructure projects to be delivered too, such as Northern Powerhouse Rail, Midlands Rail Hub, East West Rail, Crossrail 2, and a range of other schemes.”

Overall, the announcement made today has also drawn positive comments from a range of sources.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, Chief Engineer at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said:

“The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is delighted that the Government has retained confidence in the benefits of the HS2 project.  The resulting improvements to both north-south and east-west flows in the North of England will lead to economic growth, modal shift from road and air to rail for both passengers and freight. This will provide significant benefits for reduced greenhouse gas emissions and reduce pollutants that contribute to poor air quality.

The routes minimise the impact of construction on the operation of today’s railway with opportunities to investigate how the high-speed rail link can be delivered with minimal environmental impacts. For example, more refined modelling using information from High Speed 1 might indicate where some expensive tunnelling may be avoided.”

I would like to agree with Dr Baxter, especially with regard to modal shift for freight, but the trend so far in the rail capability does not support that idea – there is an increased demand yes, but connecting up existing facilities in the north has not happened.

In 2015, a £3million+ intermodal facility was opened at Teesport, and PD Ports saw its customers choosing to use intermodal platforms, with a “significant modal shift” continuing.

Perhaps the most telling comment made by this port operator is this:

“There is a significant demand from our customers to be able to move freight east to west through this Northern corridor allowing shorter distances to be covered by rail. Without a viable alternative route for rail freight with the necessary capacity and gauge, the growth we are experiencing will be limited and at risk of reducing due to transport restrictions.”

In addition then to the lack of investment in rail freight generally, there is a very considerable difference in any economic strategy to enable the oft-quoted “Northern Powerhouse” to actually fulfil its aspirations.  The approval for HS2 does not, improve that situation at all, and the extension of the initial HS2 project as far as Crewe, could likely create a bottleneck as freight and passenger services converge.

By 2017/18, the total goods lifted by rail in the UK was down to only 75 million tonnes annually, and according to ORR estimates, represented less than 5% of total freight moved.  The non-bulk services offered by British Rail under Speedlink, and other services have long since been replaced by 1,000s of “white vans” from DPD, UPS DHL, etc., etc. – many travelling hundreds of miles a day.  How can they be integrated and improve connectivity on the back of HS2?

The impact on freight and modal shift?

Babcock Rail Wagons 4For passengers HS2 might well assist in faster commuting to London from the West Midlands, but it has little or no prospect of improving rail transport in the North, and perhaps only marginal in the Midlands.  Couple that with the failure to build and investment in the northern rail infrastructure – indeed the cancellation of electrfication projects – it is difficult not to say that the project is starting from the wrong place!

Useful links:

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More Freight on Rail is Essential

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A publication by the Rail Delivery Group and referred to on Network Rail’s website points to an increased demand for freight on rail over the past few years – perhaps unsurprising in view of the growing attention devoted to our impact on the environment.

Always a useful read: Freight on Rail

freight-train-7-1035x545-903x500www.networkrail.co.uk/stories/rail-freight-and-the-impact-of-investment

Demand for Britain’s rail freight is rising.

This network for transporting essential goods, from clothing to construction materials, is crucial to the country’s productivity and continues to generate billions of pounds of economic benefits.

A report published by Rail Delivery Group, Rail Freight: Working for Britain, outlines the significant improvements made to the network in recent years. It says the rail freight network created more than £1.7bn of economic benefits to the country in 2016.

The figure comprises almost £1.2bn of productivity gains for businesses using rail freight instead of the roads, and more than £500m of benefits by cutting road congestion, road accidents, carbon emissions and improving the quality of air.

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Will HS2 Really Benefit The North?

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This is a great podcast from Helen Pidd, the Guardian’s Transport Editor, and highlights some of the real issues facing rail users in the north……

Screenshot 2020-02-21 at 15.34.58“As the government prepares to give the green light to a new high-speed rail line between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, Helen Pidd looks at the dire state of transport links in the north of England. Plus: Annabel Dixon argues that Britain should follow the lead of other European countries on assisted dying legislation”

www.theguardian.com/news/audio/2020/feb/06/will-hs2-really-benefit-the-north

 

Nationalised Northern Rail

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Well, it took a bit of time, but finally some action has been taken on another of these failing train operating franchises.  Of course nothing will change overnight, and no doubt nothing will stop those interminable excuses for the poor performance:

  1. Platforms too short
  2. Electrification delays
  3. Too many passengers
  4. Etc.

I think the most untenable of the excuses is the ‘short platforms’.  Back in the days of steam, when an 8-coach train pulled up at a station where platforms were short, the train often pulled further along to allow the trailing coaches to access the platform.  But perhaps now that’s no longer possible – after all trains must be at least 10 coaches or more today, surely?

The idea that electrification delays – they will cite the Preston to Blackpool stretch as an example – is equally daft.  That’s worse than the “wrong kind of snow” – because it was a planned piece of work, and the infrastructure is already owned and managed by the Government as Network Rail.   So was that just a – look over there “squirrel” excuse to deflect attention from the operators overall poor performance?

According to recent figures from the ORR Network Rail are “responsible” for 58% of delays to train services.  Is that shorthand for Government have UNDER-INVESTED in the rail network infrastructure?

It must be, since Network Rail DO NOT RUN TRAINS.

 

Can’t see that holding up too well against the timteable chaos of the previous year.

Anyway, we are going to see the change from 1st March, and the media area ready, and busy with their various pronouncements:

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Further Reading

RMT ON NORTHERN BEING TAKEN INTO PUBLIC OWNERSHIP

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£500 million to Re-open Rail

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Beeching rail cuts: Fund to help restore lines goes ahead amid criticism

Reversal of Beeching rail cuts should happen quickly, says Shapps

Government promises £500m to fund reverse Beeching cuts

This seems to be a great headline grabber, but in reality will only manage a few miles of track. Much of the media has touted the Preston and Wyre lines, maybe up to Fleetwood, or Ashington in Co Durham.

If it happens it may be factually correct, but only as part of a more strategic plan to enhance rail capacity.

Remaining questions would be: who and how will routes be selected for re-opening? Which stations? Will it be electrified? Will it bring more freight onto rail?

If the latter, then additional freight facilities will be needed.

I’m not sure £500 million represents anything other than a gimmick. It needs to be followed up with more extensive and expansive proposals.

Will this funded being taken away from HS2?

We won’t be holding our breath on this one.

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Northern to be Nationalised

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Is this one of those about time too moments?

The investment is still needed, despite the projects that have been undertaken in the past couple of years.  There is still much to be done.

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I wonder where or indeed how it will be funded – the budget awaits.

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