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North, Midland and West Rail Electrification - a Premature Cancellation based on Panic, Politics and Prejudice

September 3, 2017 12:24 PM

Siemens Rail ()The Tories' unexpected and disasterous cancellation of the electrification of the rail lines from Cardiff to Swansea, Oxenholme to Windermere and on the Midland Mainline North of Kettering is a huge setback for our railways, the regions, the travelling public and the environment. Electrification means faster journeys, extra capacity, greater efficiency and a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. Investment as planned that would have produced huge benefits later.

The fundamental reason for these cancellations is certainly financial, as Brexit starts to push up supply costs and reduce tax revenues. So it is not surprising that the government finds itself under pressure, but an outright cancellation coupled with a reliance on inefficient intermediate technology is a very short sighted response to the problem. Compared to diesel powered trains, all-electric trains are 20% cheaper to lease, have 33% lower operating costs, cost 45% less for fuel and produce 25% les carbon dioxide.

Apart from betraying promises to voters in Wales and the North this bluest of blue governments is ripping up the Green Agenda that was laid down so successfully by Liberal Democrat ministers during the Coalition Government. By going for bi-modal trains - ones that can switch from electric to diesel traction - the Conservatives are locking in inefficiency, pollution and poor performance for years to come. The Tory arch-Brexiteer Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling is ignoring developments on the Continent, as I suppose you might expect him to.

In the EU the pressure to drive down costs is just as intense as it is in the UK and several development there have recently demonstrated significant installation and operational saving with new electrification schemes.

In Denmark, Siemens is part of a consortium installing 1,300 km of electrical overhead power lines for the operator, Banedanmark. They are using the new Sicat SX system which promises a minimum 20% saving compared to existing practice. It uses 2 km tension lengths and 100 m separation between supports compared to 1.5 km lengths and 65 m support separation currently standard in UK. The design also allows for factory based pre-fabrication of supports so these can be erected faster and with less disruption. In Denmark this has led to 40% fewer support structures and foundations, reducing the impact of overhead equipment on the landscape and the environment.

The Sicat equipment has been designed and tested with suitability for other railway systems prominently in mind. It is compliant with Technical Standards for Interoperability for speeds up to 250 km/h and is aleady in operation in Hungary.

Not only would the savings achieved in Denmark be important and significant savings for the government, but the reduction in supports and overhead equipment would go a long way to calming the objections of the Conservative voters to the visual intrusiveness of overhead electrification.

That leaves just the matter of Grayling's Brexit prejudice. On the one hand he is anxious to place the massive order for new bi-mode trains with Hitachi in the hope of an early UK-Japan trade deal and on the other hand he is ignoring the German/Danish cost reduction experience because it's not invented here and the UK's longt term goal is now to reduce our economic links with the EU. Either way the UK taxpayers and rail travellers end up paying for the Tory Leavers' prejudice and ignorance.

Picture from Siemens