Electrification changes are on the way

Trans-Pennine electric train .
Trans-Pennine electric train .

Trains and buses are in the process of undergoing a huge transformation in the way they operate in England. The significance of what is happening is inevitably going to involve some references to political dogma, which this column normally prefers to avoid.

In Scotland, transport service provision is devolved to the Scottish government, but railway infrastructure remains with Network Rail. The attempt to privatise control of railway infrastructure in Britain in the 1993 legislation resulted in Railtrack being set up in 1994. However, it was not up to the job, and in 2002 its responsibilities were transferred to the state-controlled not-for-profit company Network Rail.

The Flying Scotsman fiasco recently led to questions as to why railway infrastructure in Scotland should not be a devolved responsibility as well as the services, creating a Scottish division of Network Rail reporting to Transport Scotland.

Much of the railway network in the Central Belt of Scotland is in the process of being electrified, and a tranche of new electric trains is due for delivery from 2018. This will result in diesel units becoming available to add to trains on the remaining non-electrified lines, such as the Borders Railway.

The principle of extending electrification is at last being taken seriously in England after an extremely slow start, and in order to convert the Manchester to Glasgow and Edinburgh services as soon as possible, a priority was made of electrifying the original Liverpool and Manchester line and re-routeing the trains along it onto the West Coast Main Line.

The line through Chorley was going to take longer to electrify, but it is now being done, and when it is complete perhaps the services will revert to their original route. The accompanying image is of a Trans-Pennine Express electric train at Edinburgh. The electric trains are longer than the diesels they have replaced, and over-crowding has been reduced as a result.

In North East England, there is pressure to electrify the Tyne Valley line, not primarily for passenger services, but for use as a freight route. There has been some half-hearted pressure for many years to restore passenger services in south east Northumberland, but this sort of pressure only comes to fruition with political backing, which has generally been lacking.

Demand for the restoration of local passenger services on the East Coast Main Line in Northumberland has amounted to only a few lone voices. The railway regulators do not generally welcome such developments as they utilise track ‘paths’ in a less economical way than express services, and there are several independent operators anxious to obtain paths for fast services to Edinburgh, to compete with the franchised operator on the line, which trades as Virgin Trains East Coast, but is actually 90 per cent Stagecoach. The ten per cent which is Virgin is the paint and the style, while the underlying operational quality is Stagecoach.

The chief competitor to Virgin and Stagecoach is First Group, which has been granted paths to provide a few competitive services, but not until 2021. Pathing is the problem in respect of Reston station. It is now certain that the Trans-Pennine services to be extended from Newcastle to Edinburgh from 2019 will call, but doubt has been cast on the fulfilment of Scotrail’s promise to extend local services from Dunbar to Berwick, originally to happen this year, but then put back to 2018.

There is often criticism of the amount of investment in the form of new trains, longer trains, improved railway infrastructure etc in London and the south east, but this is all commensurate with the population in the area, and the daily movement of so many people in and out of central London.

Greater London covers around 30 miles radius of central London with a population almost equivalent to the whole of Scotland and Wales.

John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp? priced at £14.95, post paid and signed. Also Experiments in Public Transport Operation at £11.95. Order through the author’s website www.john-wylde.co.uk