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09.03.15

McLoughlin explains GWML and TransPennine electrification delays

TransPennine electrification will definitely miss its 2019 completion date and will instead be delivered in the “early 2020s”, according to transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

Speaking to the transport select committee, McLoughlin was less specific on Great Western electrification, saying merely that he “hoped” it would be completed on time, and that he would be keeping up the “pressure” on Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation to ensure it is.

He said: “There are areas where progress has not been as fast as I would have liked.”

RTM has reported over recent months on delays to TransPennine electrification.

Asked about delays in general to electrification during CP5, McLoughlin said: “Is [electrification] the right mode to go for the future? I believe it is; I don’t think anyone is arguing against electrification. They are big schemes, and some are taking longer than we’d have liked. Some difficulties are being thrown up.”

In terms of the Great Western, he mentioned the fact that the route goes through “several World Heritage sites” and some “very difficult tunnels”, and acknowledged the widely-reported “cost increase” in the project. He noted that the scheme involved 15,000 foundations, 14,000 masts, 1,500 signal upgrades and 50 station improvements.

Permanent secretary at the Department for Transport, Philip Rutnam, refused to be drawn on other schemes that may be delayed, despite repeated questions from transport committee chair Louise Ellman MP. However, he did say that he would “much rather we didn’t face” this level of uncertainty over electrification timings.

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He said the slippages in TransPennine electrification were one of the reasons why the Invitation to Tender for the new Northern franchise insisted on 120 new-build diesel (or battery-powered) vehicles, not dependent on electric infrastructure.

Both said that Network Rail has concluded that more upgrades are needed to the TransPennine route to cope with the level of growth in passenger journeys. This, presumably, is a reference to a 12-week study recently completed by Network Rail and handed to the Department for Transport, but which remains so far unpublished.

McLoughlin said: “The upgrade of our transport infrastructure is highly desirable and necessary.”

He said “a lot of areas in the south” have benefited from electrification, but that the north has missed out. He suggested that some of the electrification on the East Coast was done "on the cheap", which is still causing problems today.

He noted that the first electric Liverpool to Manchester Airport train ran last week, as reported by RTM – but what he did not say was that those services, operated by Class 319s cascaded to Northern from Thameslink, were themselves a few months late in starting.

McLoughlin also referred to the cross-party northern electrification taskforce report, which put forward its long-term priorities across three tiers last week. McLoughlin promised that those priorities would be taken into account in the planning for Control Period 6, from 2019-2024.

(Images: Screenshots from Parliamentlive.tv)

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