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Electrification work ‘could be wasted’ if north doesn’t get new trains

Millions of pounds of investment on electrifying rail lines in the north could be wasted  due to a shortage of electrified stock to run on them, the boss of Rail North has warned.

David Brown, chief executive of Merseytravel, gave evidence on behalf of the body representing northern transport bodies and councils at this week’s House of Commons Transport Select Committee hearing.

The Department for Transport is preparing to award the franchises for the Northern and Trans-Pennine Express routes from February 2016, which will last for between seven and nine years. However if provisions aren’t included in those franchises to make the most of the infrastructure work that is going on, such as electrification, then the work is being wasted.

Brown said: “We believe that, because it is so fixed, now is the right time to include within the specification for those franchises the operational requirements that will make the most of the infrastructure that is being provided. If you do not do it now you have missed that opportunity for quite a long time, so now is the time to build in requirements around smart ticketing, upgrades to and replacement of rolling stock, and service enhancements, to make the most of the electrification that is being produced.”

However even if provisions are included in the specification for the new franchises to take advantage of the infrastructure works and electrification there may still be problems in finding trains that can do so. Brown went on to say that while the infrastructure is in place there is a shortage of rolling stock that can use it.

He said: “Lines between Liverpool and Manchester are being electrified and you could run electric trains on those services very quickly, but there is a shortage of newer electric and diesel trains coming to the north to operate those services. That is where there would be a significant missed opportunity.”

As RTM reported in April, two four-car Class 319s will be transferred from the Thameslink route to operate Northern services between Liverpool and Manchester on the newly electrified line via Newton le Willows from December 2014, with 10 to 12 more to follow throughout 2015.

That cascade deal struck between Northern, the Department for Transport, and fleet owner Porterbrook also freed up a diesel train to “strengthen” services to Bolton from December 2014, the DfT said.

The Class 319s, which were built in the late 1980s by BREL at York and will eventually all be shifted away from Thameslink as the new Siemens-built Class 700s come into operation, will deliver an extra 3,000 seats for passengers in the north-west during the peak, the DfT continued.

But Brown reiterated in his evidence to the committee that the north as a whole is reliant on cascades of ‘used’ trains from the south of England, but for the north to fully take advantage of electrification this has to change.

“Our view as local authorities in the north is that having adequate electric trains – or, indeed, bigger diesel trains – is absolutely essential to unlock economic growth,” Brown said. “And constantly being at the end of a cascade to take trains that are fairly old from elsewhere into the north is not the best way of making the most of electrification.”

In his grilling by MPs, Brown also defended Rail North’s decision not to get involved with the DfT’s consultation on the new northern franchises.

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