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Midland Main Line and Transpennine electrification 'paused'

The government has confirmed that work on Midland Main Line electrification "will be paused" to allow struggling Network Rail to focus on the Great Western, which it calls the "top priority".

In a statement to the Commons, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "Electrification of the Great Western Line is a top priority. And I want Network Rail to concentrate its efforts on getting that right. On the Midland Main Line, better services can be delivered on that line before electrification. With things such as speed improvement works. So work on electrification will be paused. I want it to be done and done well. It will be part of our future plans for the route."

Preparatory civils and clearance works had already begun to ready the line for electrification, including bridge modifications. Piling work between Bedford and Kettering started last month.

Engineers rebuild Templars Way bridge in Bedfordshire resize 635709140024250520

The original plan, costed at £1.6bn, was to have electric trains running to Corby by December 2017, Derby and Nottingham by December 2019 and to Sheffield by December 2020. Back in 2012, the year that Midland Main Line electrification was confirmed by the then Coalition government, Network Rail’s David Golding claimed that the reduced operating costs of running electric stock would reduce the cost of running the route by £30m a year.

Patrick McLoughlin also confirmed on Thursday that Transpennine electrification is paused, as previously reported by PSE's sister title RTM. "We need to be much more ambitious for that route," he said. "Building a powerhouse for the north. With a fast, high-capacity Transpennine electric route. We are working with businesses and cities in the north to make that happen."

"Network Rail’s spending should stay within its funding allowance," McLoughlin added.

The recent report by the ORR (now known as the Office of Rail & Road) setting out the targets that have been missed by Network Rail showed just how many enhancement schemes have hit problems.

Welsh politicians used prime minister’s questions on Wednesday to ask whether electrification to Swansea will be complete by 2018.

The prime minister reiterated his government’s policy – but failed to commit to the date. He said: “We’re absolutely committed to electrifying the Great Western Main Mine to Cardiff through to Swansea. We’re also contributing £125m to the costs of the wider Valley Lines electrification.

“It’s vital this work goes ahead. We do need to make sure Network Rail gets its costs under control and has strong leadership in place and we’ll make sure those things happen.”

Rail minister Claire Perry MP gave a speech on rail infrastructure transformation this week, but did not discuss any changes to Network Rail’s CP5 projects and spending. She said: “While our commitment to infrastructure investment is firm, it takes place against a background of prioritisation. We have to use the next five years to become more efficient.

“Because although this is a great time to be part of the rail engineering industry, as far as this government’s concerned, it’s not boom time. Every pound we spend over the next five years must be made to count. That’s the responsibility of the government when it allocates the money, and it’s also the responsibility of infrastructure professionals when you use the money. So your task is to sharpen your project-cost pencils. And treat taxpayers’ money as if it is your own – which after all, it is.”

As recently as February, leading Conservative politicians were seriously discussing extending, rather than cutting back, the scope of electrification programmes. Chancellor George Osborne said he had asked Network Rail to “look very seriously” at electrifying the main line between Bristol and Birmingham and between Derby and Birmingham, as part of the Initial Industry Plan for CP6, due next year.

See also coverage in our sister magazine, Rail Technology Magazine:

Parry-Jones pushed out at Network Rail; Peter Hendy takes over

McLoughlin scraps role of Network Rail public members in governance overhaul

Hendy to provide tough love for TOCs and Network Rail execs

(Top image: Alvey & Towers)


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