Posted 7 days ago
Sparks fly as Labour hits back over electrification scrappage plans
The Labour Party have criticised plans to scrap or downgrade rail electrification projects in Wales, the Midlands and the North, with a warning of longer journey times, spiralling costs and increased carbon emissions.
The Tory government have been accused of 'years of broken promises' for failing to deliver on pledges to develop a faster, greener and cleaner railway network for the UK.
Plans to electrify key routes, in particular in Wales and the north of England, were scrapped in a shock move by Chris Grayling, who cited a massive budgetary overspend by Network Rail as the rationale behind the decision - a move that has sparked fury from the opposition.
Plans to modernise lines in South Wales, the Midlands and the Lake District have been scrapped completely and several projects have been downgraded, leading to concerns over increased journey times - estimated to increase by up to 30 minutes on routes between Manchester and Liverpool, and Leeds and Newcastle. Hopes of a 19 minute cut to the journey time on the Great Western's Swansea-London route is also in doubt.
The government has claimed passengers won't have to put up with 'disruptive electrification works' and 'intrusive wires and masts'.
In addition, the government had placed an order for 122 highly-efficient InterCity Express trains from Hitachi, at a cost of £5.7 billion. This rolling stock will now have to be made bi-mode - fitted with diesel engines to run on non-electrified lines; the cost of which has not been confirmed.
Bi-mode trains are generally agreed to be less efficient than fully electric engines because of the extra weight they have to carry, combined with a smaller capacity.
The Labour Party claim electrification and new rolling stock would cut carbon emissions by 20%-30% and slash maintenance costs by more than 30%.
The Transport Minister defended the move. He said: “New bi-mode train technology offers seamless transfer from diesel power to electric that is undetectable to passengers. This means that we no longer need to electrify every line to achieve the same significant improvements to journeys, and we will only electrify lines where it delivers a genuine benefit to passengers.”
In 2015, the government announced it was 'pausing' the electrification of the Midland Mainline, but insisted all works would be completed. The recent announcement means the line will not be electrified but it will be served by the new Intercity Express trains running on diesel engines.
Despite the government's boast that it would improve capacity, boost jobs and encourage investment, many parts of the UK will now not see the benefit of the so-called 'electric spine'.
The demise of an electrified Midland Mainline has also sparked fears over the future of the TransPennine route between Manchester and Leeds. This route, also 'paused' in 2015, is considered a critical part of the promised 'Northern Powerhouse'.
Chris Grayling sparked further outrage by backing a £30 billion Crossrail 2 scheme in London and the South East, days after announcing the scrappage of electrification.
Andy McDonald, Shadow Transport Secretary, said: “Pulling the plug on electrification shows the Tories’ disregard for Wales and Yorkshire, which will continue to suffer from under investment.
"The Tories are trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes by claiming that diesel bi-mode trains will deliver the same benefits as electrification, despite saying for years that failure to electrify the network costs more in the long run, causes more pollution, worsens air quality, lessens capacity and makes services slower and less reliable."
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “The government is completely committed to improving services for passengers in every part of the country - and to suggest otherwise is nonsense.
“We’re spending 55.7 billion building HS2, providing a boost to the Northern Powerhouse by better connecting it to London and the Midlands.”
The Department for Transport state the Hitachi trains will come into service from the autumn on the parts of the route that Network Rail has failed to electrify. However, now that a commitment to years of spending on the rail network has been withdrawn, the government has declined to commit to any infrastructure enhancements in a five-year plan for Network Rail.