» Network will be 67% electrified by 2017.
Andrew Adonis, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Transport, announced yesterday that the government would invest £200 million in the increased electrification of the railway system, adding to a commitment made last summer and furthering the country’s investment in carbon-friendly transportation systems.
According to Mr. Adonis, new funds would be allocated by 2016 to three projects in Northwest England: a connection between Blackpool and the West Coast Main Line; a link between Manchester and Euxton Junction; and a corridor between Huyton and Wigan. This comes in addition to the £1.1 billion worth of announcements made in July, which included the electrification of the corridor between Liverpool and Manchester and the installation of overhead catenary along the Great Western Main Line between London and Reading, Bristol, Cardiff, and Oxford. The line between Bedford and Sheffield may also be electrified by 2020 as part of a larger interest in electrifying the country’s network.
The net effect: an increase in total rail passenger miles traveled on electric trains from 60% today to 67% in 2017, with new service to 22 towns and cities formerly only welcoming diesel trains. Customers will benefit from faster travel between Scotland and Northwest England and from London to Wales. Pollutants from diesel locomotives will be reduced, with a corresponding uptick in electricity usage.
Rolling stock on the newly electric lines will come from the already electric London-area commuter railroads being replaced by the Crossrail regional rail scheme, which in turn will be receiving new trains once its new train tunnel opens under London city center. In addition, the government is planning an investment in 1,300 more cars for the system as a whole.
The recent focus on rail by the U.K.’s Labour government comes at the conclusion of twelve years in power, with elections next year likely to result in a Conservative win. Much of the first decade under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Blair meant limited investment in the new mode outside of an upgrade of the West Coast Main Line as the government simply attempted to correct the mess that resulted from the privatization of British Rail in the early 1990s; that effort is yet to be completed, as the recent failure of several operating contracts attests.
With pressure from the rival Conservatives to develop a plan for high-speed rail, Labourites have pushed their own improvement programs focusing on electrification and the High-Speed 2 program, which would connect London and Scotland in just over two hours. A decision on the alignment of that line will be announced in the spring, just prior to elections. Labour is clearly attempting to use a renewed focus on rail improvements as an electoral point-booster. Whether the citizenry will be convinced is another matter, since Labour suffers from deep unpopularity as a result of its long stay in government, limited ability to improve public services, and involvement in the Iraq War.
No matter, each of these electrification projects is good news for the country’s transportation system, since they will ultimately result in faster, more reliable trains. Electric vehicles provide the benefit of eliminating point-source pollutants, but their implementation may or may not produce overall lower carbon emissions since that depends on the source of electric power. If Britain’s electricity continues to be sourced primarily from coal, gas, and oil, improvements will be minor; a more serious switch to nuclear and renewable sources in compliance with objectives that may be established this week in Copenhagen would make electric trains far more environmentally sustainable.