When the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling scrapped the planned electrification of railway lines in Wales, the Midlands and the North in July it was seen by some as a clear demonstration of the inequality of spending priorities between London and the regions.
Proposed electrification of routes between Cardiff and Swansea, and between Kettering, Nottingham and Sheffield, and between Windermere and Oxenholme have been axed after Network Rail dramatically over-promised how quickly and how cheaply it could carry out the work. The original budget went from £874m in 2013 to £2.8bn two years later.
The sense of injustice felt in the North, Midlands and Wales was heightened with the go-ahead for the £30bn Crossrail 2 scheme in London and the South East being announced and almost the same time.
There is a long standing belief among Unions and Politicians representing those outside of the capital that other areas are being sold short. The government spin over the summer was that using electro-diesel trainsets instead of electrification would mean passengers would benefit sooner because disruptive work to install wires and masts would no longer be needed and that there were fears of gantries spoiling protected landscapes.
Welsh Affairs Committee chair David Davies has announced an inquiry will be held into the scrapping of rail electrification plans for the main line between Cardiff and Swansea as the political ramifications of this decision continue.
All these issues can be traced back to Network Rail basing their original sums on guesswork. When it came to carrying out the Great Western programme, it hadn’t looked in detail at what needed doing and it was just much harder than they thought to upgrade Victorian bridges and tunnels on a line that was being kept open at the same time.
The selection of Bi-mode technology means the same train can operate in both electrified downtown areas and non-electrified suburbs, sharing the same railway tracks without the need to invest in wayside electrification facilities (transmission lines, power substations, overhead catenary, cabling, etc.).
Passengers will see a lower environmental impact and reduced noise levels when the new trains come online so the government will hope this stops those in the north casting an envious gaze at fully electrified lines further south.
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