No regrets and a quick win for TRU and Calder Valley?

Network Rail is about to submit a list of “no regret” schemes to accelerate electrification to the government, ahead of the DfT’s Transport Decarbonisation Plan (expected in March 2021).

Quoted in New Civil Engineer (17 Dec 2020) Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail, said the no regret list aimed “to present a series of quick wins that can be worked on as soon as government gives the go ahead.” Haines said many schemes had good business cases “even after Covid”, and that “we have to bust a gut” to prove that to the Treasury. Haines adds that he will “fight anyone to the death” over a suggestion of doing nothing for the next two or three years. He described the Huddersfield line Transpennine Route Upgrade (TRU) as “waiting to go”.

What about the Calder Valley then? We wrote to Mr Haines and two of his regional managing directors just before Christmas. (An immediate acknowledgement promised a detailed reply early in January.) Picking items firstly for which planning might be somewhat advanced, we said:

May we therefore express the wish that your list of schemes about to go to the DfT will include:

– Completion of Midland Main Line electrification at least to Sheffield, plus full electrification in the TransPennine Route Upgrade (Manchester-Huddersfield-York). Within the latter, Church Fenton to Leeds (Neville Hill) would be a quick-win extension of already planned Colton Jn-Church Fenton.

– Top priorities of the March 2015 Northern Electrification Task Force report (Northern Sparks). The top-ranked (as we understand it on business, economic and environmental criteria) Northern Sparks recommendation was of course the Calder Valley line – Leeds via Brighouse and via Bradford to Rochdale and Manchester and to East Lancs and Preston. A start on this linked to TRU electrification would surely be logical.

This is a call, therefore, for you to press the government to make a start on schemes – such as the Calder Valley and Huddersfield lines -that seemed to be promised several years ago. We note that the recent National Infrastructure Commission report, though mainly about priorities for new high-speed lines and regional enhancements, also recommends a rolling programme of electrification.

We are not suggesting that Calder Valley electrification is ready to go in the same sense as the Transpennine upgrade (first announced as a full electrification scheme nearly a decade ago) or Midland Main Line (cancelled north of Bedford in 2017). But we would argue that planning needs to start for our line, almost six years since it was prioritised by the Northern Sparks report. Could early stages start alongside TRU, extending up the valley from Mirfield towards Hebden Bridge and beyond? And could North West wiring at Manchester Victoria be quickly extended not only to Stalybridge – where work actually started several years ago – but to Rochdale or Littleborough? Interim train operation might require bimodes – maybe batteries rather than diesels? Leeds-Bradford-Halifax will be challenging, but achievable with the latest engineering and the skills retention of a rolling programme. It is surely time we had a plan for full wiring.

TDNS, Calder Valley, and across North

The TDNS business plan sets out recommendations for just about all unelectrified lines. Some routes have “multiple options”. All of the Northern Sparks “full” Calder Valley route is recommended for electrification, via both Bradford and Brighouse through Rochdale to Manchester, and through East Lancs to Preston. There is a multiple option in East Lancs, but electrification is recommended: “Regional passenger service between Colne and Blackburn could operate as battery…” but “electrification would provide completed eastwest link towards Halifax and Leeds”. (We’d add: a reopened Colne-Skipton line would link with the electric Airedale route.) Electrification is recommended for Bolton-Hellifield and Skipton-Lancaster/Carlisle.

Freight is a strong factor favouring electric trains.

Harrogate-York could be battery, with electrification Leeds-Harrogate. Where’s the hydrogen then? Maybe on the Yorkshire coast through Bridlington (but could be battery with full wiring Hull-Beverley). Maybe Middlesbrough-Saltburn. But even in the Tees “hydrogen hub”, first choice long-term seems to be electric. Battery trains to Bishop Auckland and Whitby could charge under the wires Darlington-Middlesbrough. Technology should double battery storage capacity by 2035. Hydrogen could be just an interim solution on some lines.

Electrification pays for itself

So the argument for electrification is won. We think maybe the DfT gets it. But we have to convince the Treasury. A rolling programme potentially halves wiring costs. Long term, electric trains are cheaper to buy, less complex and cheaper to run. Electricity in overhead wires will be cheaper than any kind of hydrogen. A holistic economic view would show electrification paying for itself. Northern Sparks must be brought to life! – JSW

Sources include: Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy – Interim Programme Business Case (networkrail.co.uk) and Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy – Executive Summary (networkrail.co.uk) http://www.railengineer.co.uk

Network Rail draws up list of ‘no regret’ electrification schemes – New Civil Engineer

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