Autumn update 1: Arguments for electrification

DSCF1406HADRAG intends to play a leading role in the campaign for a rolling programme of rail electrification across the North of England. It’s well over two years since the Northern Electrification Task Force (NETF) drew up a list of 32 northern routes and recommended 12 for electrification in the early 2020s. The schemes were scored on economic and operational criteria, and the top ranked scheme was our Calder Valley Line from Leeds to both Manchester and Preston via both Bradford and Brighouse. We say that would follow on naturally from the Huddersfield Line “TransPennine Route Upgrade” scheme, the scope of which should be announced later this autumn.

How much actual electrification of the York-Huddersfield-Manchester route it will involve is now in doubt following government announcements and comments by the Secretary of State for Transport earlier this summer. Talk at the Department of Transport is now of “state of the art” bimode trains that mean sections of line can be left unwired – “discontinuous electrification” – where the constructing masts for overhead wires is deemed too expensive or disruptive.

Many of us think that is short term thinking, bad for business, bad for the environment. What bimode trains really mean is “electro-diesels” and “state of the art” means electric multiple units with diesel engines under the floors. More complexity meaning more to go wrong, higher maintenance costs – and compromised reliability? The diesels take over on sections of line that are not electrified, but mean the whole train is heavier, less energy efficient and more polluting. When the train is running on electricity from the overhead supply, the diesel engine is just dead weight. When it’s on diesel the transformers that handle the 25000V electricity are not being used. More mass means more energy used, means higher running costs, bad for business, bad for the environment.

And train companies seem at present to be creating a glut of modern electric trains. New trains are being ordered and replacing ones that are perfectly serviceable for years more use – if only more lines were electrified to use them! See picture caption below.

So why, when there is more and more talk about electric cars and road transport generally become “greener”, do we seem to be committing our railways to the obsolescent internal combustion engine for another generation? Government aspirations are to stop sale of conventional petrol and diesel road vehicles by 2040 and make road transport almost completely zero-emission by 2050. Surely it’s time we had a plan also for the rail industry to phase out prime movers that damage air quality and damage the climate. HADRAG says the argument for electrification, starting with our own line, remains strong. Yes, there may be innovative solutions for sections with significant lengths of tunnel or other obstacles. We believe future electric trains may be pure electrics with onboard energy storage. Battery technology is leaping ahead driven by renewable energy development and (ironically) electric cars.

HADRAG intends to promote a Charter for Rail Electrification and have written a draft supporting document Arguments for Electrification . Click to read – and prepare to engage in the debate!

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HERE’s one of those “cast-off” trains that came North from London’s travel-to-work area, and a story that shows just one little reason – among many bigger ones – for electrifying more of our railways.  It’s a Class 319 electric train at Liverpool Lime Street station about to work a service to Manchester Airport. From March 2015 the old Northern Rail franchise gave them glossy new colours so that from the outside at least they really did look almost like new. (Now they are beginning to appear in Arriva Rail North’s near-white livery.) Not bad inside either, despite old-fashioned 2+3 seating layout. (A former Northern boss was once heard to say that passengers couldn’t tell them from brand-new trains, but we weren’t sure we quite believed that.) The last “319s” have now ceased service on the Thameslink route between Bedford and Brighton. There were 86 of these 4-car trains. 32 are now with Northern (or about to be). Eight more are to be given diesel engines, becoming electro-diesel “bimodes” called Class 769. The eight should (assuming conversion and testing runs smoothly) enter Northern from next Spring. A further five “769s” have been approved for the Welsh trains franchise. That still leaves nearly half of these decent modern trains, easily upgradable to modern high quality, in store, “off-lease”, awaiting a user. Northern (Arriva) will probably use some of its eight 769s on the Windermere branch, where electrification plans have recently been cancelled by the government. Windermere-Manchester Airport trains seem likely (until brand new stock arrives) to run on diesel on the branch line, and on overhead-wire electric from Oxenholme to the Airport. So heavy internal combustion engines and fuel tanks will be dragged as dead weight under the wires. The promised brand-new stock might have to be pure diesel, though there is a hint of “alternative fuels” – electrics with battery storage maybe – by the early 2020s. It’s not just the 319s – with new franchises down south – not to mention Northern’s neighbour TransPennine Express –  replacing serviceable electrics with brand new stock, there appears to be an increasing glut of electric trains. All the more reason, surely, for a rolling programme of proper electrification, not least across the North of England and starting with our top-ranked Calder Valley Line. Read our draft Arguments for Electrification paper.

 

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