United Kingdom Commits to Further Rail Electrification

UK Rail Electrification

» 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.

21 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Justin Bernard

    So this essentially means the IEP project is pretty much dead then.

  • Ed

    Manchester-Leeds–Doncaster- Sheffield is looking like a big hole as is the cross country route from the ports of Harwich and Ipswich to Birmingham via Leicester.

  • As a side note, Transport Minister Adonis is a life peer, which means he is always referred to in the British press as “Lord Adonis,” which makes him sound to me like a male stripper.

  • Ocean Railroader

    It’s instering to look at this eletric railroad system and to noice how it looks like it’s sending out a new route like a giant tree root into a part of the county were it looks like were no eletric line has been before. The US should try to do catenary battle plans like this by sending out a tap root out into areas were there are no eletric lines before.

    The only odd thing on the map is the new elertic line going in between Manchester and Leeds it seems to end very close to two other eletric routes with out linking into them.

  • AL

    Ocean Railroader: There is a big difference in train frequency on a typical UK route and a typical US route, so a “tap root” will not be as useful in its own right. This is especially true if most trains need to leave the trunk to reach a final destination since dual-mode locomotives are not ideal. It probably only works by making extensions to the NEC.

    Perhaps a better US strategy is to take a route that can justify a high frequency service for either intercity and/or commuter corridors where the trains stay fully under the wires. Minor routes that only share a small part of the route or are infrequent could remain diesel. For example, electrify Chicago-St Louis or perhaps NY-Albany. The new electric trains will free-up existing diesel units that can be used on other routes to build ridership prior to electric conversion.

  • Ocean Railroader

    Canada is planning on building a major eletric train line system with their Go Rail system and they are planning to extend it down to Nigara Falls. If they do set up a eletric train system then the US should try to send out a new eletric tap root out of the NEC from New York City up to Albany NY and then across the state’s main planned high speed rail line to Nigara Falls were it will meet up with the Canada eletric Go system. They are planning to make the Go systems catenary built to mainline railroad stardards.

    • Matt Fisher

      Uh, Ocean Railroader, that’s in Ontario. And it’s GO Transit (the “GO” standing for “Government of Ontario”, since here in Ontario, where I live – and I’m from Ottawa instead of Toronto – the government ownws GO).

      • Ocean Railroader

        The GO Transit was the first place I had ever been on a moving paasanger train in my life strangely on a trip to Ontario

        I hope they do build the giant eletric system for GO it would be great in that it would provid a logical end for a catenary line leaving the NEC out of New York City.

  • Rella

    I’m not sure of the benefits of electrifying the Midland Main Line (North of Bedford) unless at the same time money is spent upgrading the route to 140mph+ as at the moment (unless I’m mistaken) the top speed on the route is 110mph. (Slightly off topic, this also indicates to me why Stagecoach MML is suffering).

    My view is user-ship gains from London to Nottingham/Derby/Sheffield would be seen sooner if either a branch was created from HS2 or the route was “remodelled” significantly.

  • Rella, are there any major slow zones on the Midland Main Line, or can it run at 110 mph the whole way? Because if there are slow zones, now would be a good time to eliminate them.

  • Max Wyss

    I am not familiar with the Midland Main Line, but electfification together with updated signalling could also create decent speed ups using tilting trains. In any case, grades (and there are some) will be handled better with electric traction.

  • DBX

    Track curvature is a problem on parts of the Midland Main, although, like a lot of Britain’s Victorian main lines, it was built to a fairly high speed standard to start with compared to its US counterparts. The engineering on the last parts of the line to be built — the St. Pancras extension and the Settle-Carlisle section, from the late 1860s to the mid 1870s, is just amazing for the time and not bad by today’s standards. The oldest (and curviest) part of the line is from about Leicester to Leeds, though even this stretch is 110mph over large sections (ironically the better-engineered northernmost Settle-Carlisle stretch has been left at a lower speed due first to underinvestment and now due to heavy freight use). Still, I don’t think there can be quite as nasty a curve on this line as there is on the West Coast Main at Wolverton, where some numbnut in the late Victorian era decided that rather than expanding the railroad engineering works there to the east of the existing line, it would be better to have the main line do a slalom around the eastern perimeter of the expanded works. That situation remains to this day, with the siding to access the engineering works on a high-speed alignment and the main line bent like a pretzel. Nonetheless the Pendolino zips through at what seems to be only a slight reduction in speed.

    The sad part is that what was by far the better route through the Midlands, the Great Central with its larger Euro-standard loading gauge and high-speed alignment, was abandoned in 1969 at the end of the Beeching era due more to office politics at BR than anything else. The GC had been transferred from Eastern Region in the late 1950s to London Midland Region, and because the office cultures of the pre-nationalization railroads survived nationalization, LM saw the GC as the enemy within and did everything they could to wreck it. There have been periodic proposals to revive GC, most recently in 2003, for high speed freight — but some key parts of the right of way, notably through Leicester and Nottingham, have been lost.

    Looking at other parts of the network, the new Manchester-area electrification is great. Having been raised in the northwest, I can tell you the Manchester-Preston-Blackpool, Manchester-Liverpool and Liverpool-Wigan gaps in the wire are disruptive to the network and it will be wonderful to finally have through-running electric trains. But this plan still isn’t complete — the four-trains-an-hour Liverpool-Widnes-Warrington-Manchester route, and the intercity Manchester-Leeds-York, Manchester-Sheffield and Leeds-Hull routes are also heavily used and overcrowded and still not earmarked for electrification. Farther south, the cross country routes through Birmingham are also missing from the plan, for example Birmingham-Derby-York, Birmingham-Leicester-Norwich. Birmingham-Oxford and Birmingham-Bristol-Plymouth.

    And it’s kind of typical of the UK that the newly electrified northwestern routes are going to get London’s hand-me-down trains.

  • I wonder what is going to happen after the election. I am guessingteh electrification budget will disapear after the election who ever wins. It will be a great shame. I think Blackpool was really hoping for electrification as soon as possible to try and help the tourism market in the town, plus they were hoping for a University which has just had the funding pulled.
    Fingers crossed they find teh funding for the electrification schemes as they will help the local economies and provide jobs in the conversion. I wonder if we could have some laws that protect british companies so they get the contracts?

  • Has this plan changed since the new Government and in light of the emergency budget this week? I have seen reports of plans to sell off HS1 and question marks on HS2, but nothing on this.

  • Matt Fisher

    There are other lines I see that have been left out but should be electrified. Some electrifications in other parts of England, as well as in Scotland (especially in the north), are missing from the plan. I don’t see this being all “67% electrified by 2017″. It appears to be more like 40%.

  • Matt Fisher

    A correction is that this is the new link to the electrification plan linked earlier. I just want to bring it up.

  • John W

    Today the government announced £8 billion worth of projects, largely the railcar purchases and electrification as mentioned above but with some things put back a couple of years, and electrification of the line to Wales put off indefinitely. BBC News has a good round-up of the proposals.

    • Nathanael

      Interesting. Suburban electrification in preference to long-distance electrification on the Great Western Main Line.

      Hopefully the Marlow, Henley, and Windsor branch lines will be electrified while they’re at it; it makes no sense to leave random suburban diesel branches.

      • Max Wyss

        Suburban electrification does make sense, as you need high short-time performance for a suburban train (frequent acceleration and braking), and for that, diesel is simply not sufficient.

  • Drewski

    Funny–in “socialist” France and Spain, there is ongoing expansion of electrification, and many expressways are tolled to pay for their (roads’) construction. (Until Sarkozy was elected, French autoroute tolls helped pay for new TGV lines.) Not so in the UK, which is falling to the back of the pack for European transportation infrastructure. Delaying electrification of the GWML just perpetuates higher operating costs and lower speeds than would be achieveable on the same track with electrification, which was one of the arguments behind electrification of the WCML.

  • John W

    The government budget, tabled yesterday, contains £130 million worth of further electrification, including “adding to the electrification of the Transpennine rail route, by upgrading the Hope Valley line between Manchester and Sheffield – and improving the Manchester to Preston and Blackpool, and Manchester to Bradford lines.”

    Further details: http://www.railwaypeople.com/rail-news-articles/rail-funding-announced-in-2012-budget-2095.html

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