Thursday, 22 April 2021

RIA calls for rolling programme of electrification

Today the Railway Industry Association along with 16 other rail bodies has written an open letter to the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps urging the Government to begin a rolling programme of electrification.

The letter coincides with the release of a report produced by the RIA called "'Why Rail Electrification?". They say "The report urges the Government to begin a programme of rail electrification now, in order to meet Net Zero legal commitments. It complements Network Rail’s Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy by explaining why electrification is both a future-proof technology and a good investment."

The 80-page report sets out the case for a rolling programme of electrification and deals with potential sticking points such as cost, the report also looks at other forms of traction such as battery and hybrid technologies. The report does not dismiss battery or hybrid traction as an option but states that electrification is the "optimal choice for the majority of lines on the network"

Wires above the WCML

The case for electrification seems clear, I and many others would probably go as far as to say it's a no brainer, however it seems that the government has been dragging its heels since the GWML electrification debacle.

The fact that electrification of the GWML was delivered late and 3 times over budget wasn't so much the fault of the rail industry, but a failure of the Government to properly plan for the massive electrification project that it had promised to deliver. Put simply, during the CP5 (Control Period) HLOS (High Level Output Specification) covering the period from 2014 to 2019, the Government promised too much and failed to realise the enormity of the challenge and the fact that the industry lacked the skills to achieve such large amount of electrification in a relatively short space of time.

A graph shared on Twitter produced by rail electrification engineer Garry Keenor demonstrates clearly what went wrong with CP5. The industry went from no new electrification schemes leading up to 2012, then by the end of 2013 there were more than 20 schemes either in progress or in the pipeline.

20+ active schemes from 0 in the space of 5 years is not what the industry means when it says it wants to see a "rolling programme of electrification".

The sudden burst of activity meant that the industry had to rapidly tool up and find enough people with the necessary skills to carry out the work. Skills and equipment that at the time the industry simply did not have. And when new equipment such as Network Rail's High Output Plant System (HOPS) did arrive, it simply did not live up to expectations. 

CP5 HLOS map, showing projects that were completed, delayed or cancelled

The CP5 debacle lead to schedule and cost overruns which ultimately lead to the Government abandoning plans for the "electric spine". Since then electrification plans have either been delayed, put on hold or cancelled altogether.

It's not as if anyone didn't see this coming, the industry for years has been calling on the government to continue with electrification, all be it at a more manageable pace than the previous famine and feast.

Even I, a relative outsider have been writing about the lack of skills and the government's failure to properly plan for the electrification of Britain's rail network. Listed below are some of the blogs I've written about skills and electrification over the past 5 years.

CP5 HLOS: "Not all doom and gloom" 

The problem with Crossrail North 

Trans-Pennine electrification and Crossrail North 

Electrification - what went wrong? 

Northern - Powerhouse or Powercut?

Northern Rail Industry Leaders, Building the North's New Railway


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