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TfGM to fight corner for full TransPennine electrification

Full electrification of the TransPennine route must continue to be considered alongside any alternatives, Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) has argued, insisting that the use of bi-mode engine technology is “relatively unproven”.

Recently the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, seemed to suggest that the east-west rail link may be unlikely to be fully electrified and instead a ‘smart’ approach could be taken using bi-mode locomotives.

However, in a report prepared for the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Metrolink and Rail Networks Sub-Committee, TfGM stated that it continues to stand by the original investment plan and a preference for full electrification of the line.

The report, submitted by Amanda White, TfGM’s head of rail, added that “tried and tested solution guarantees lower operating costs, better performing services and greater capacity”.

However, she said they “have seen, and acknowledge, escalating cost of electrification infrastructure”.

Full electrification of the route must continue to be considered, alongside any alternative options, to the committed deadline of December 2017, argued White: “For any alternative solutions to be seriously considered, we believe that evidenced reassurance is needed that bi-mode train technology and discontinuous electrification methods are robust in delivering the committed outputs.”

It was noted that officers will be working very closely with Network Rail, Rail North and the DfT to ensure key stakeholders are involved throughout the decision-making process.

Ultimately, the industry needs to ensure that the committed customer benefits are delivered, and TfGM will look to DfT and Network Rail for assurances that train frequency will be increased, rail services are reliable and journey times are reduced, noted White.

TfGM will continue to make the case for further and sustained investment in Greater Manchester and the north, including by ensuring a continued commitment to TransPennine upgrade work and to fulfilling the commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail, the importance of which the transport secretary has already highlighted.

Discussing the decision to scrap three other major electrification schemes in July, which included the Oxenholme to Windermere scheme, which would have allowed four direct Manchester Airport to Windermere trains to be operated by brand new Class 331 electric trains from May 2018, the committee said revised proposals will see services to and from Manchester Airport now be operated by ‘bi-mode’ trains.

These trains will operate in electric mode between Manchester Airport and Oxenholme and then under diesel power between Oxenholme and Windermere. It is useful to note that under the plans announced by Northern and Transpennine Express, bi-mode trains will operate on all of the routes highlighted for electrification, explained White.

“Class 769-Flex trains will operate most or all of the services in the Wigan North Western-Stalybridge and Wigan North Western-Alderley Edge service groups from the May 2018 timetable change and Class 802 bi-mode trains will operate the Liverpool Newcastle/Edinburgh and Manchester Airport-Newcastle service groups via the North TransPennine route from 2019,” she said.

TfGM’s head of rail added that the DfT stance is that as a result of using bi-mode technology, “disruptive electrification works on a number of key corridors will no longer be required” and “passengers will benefit sooner”. 

“The use of new train engine technology is still relatively unproven however, bi-mode trains are currently being tested on the Great Western Railway and will be operating passenger services in 2018,” White concluded.

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Ampox   08/09/2017 at 11:57

There is nothing "SMART" about bi-mode technology. Carrying tons of diesel engines under the wires is wasteful. What is needed is "smarter" electrification methods - can we learn from European schemes?

Cox MA   08/09/2017 at 15:06

Thoroughly agree with 'Ampox'. Bimode is nothing new - you're behind the times Manchester. Another thought. If cars and lorries are going to be electric in two years time, why should railways go on polluting the atmoshere with expensive diesel when new ways of collecting free energy are coming off the 'drawing board' quite regularly? Unfortunately mens' magazines don't contain such useful content.

David Powell   08/09/2017 at 16:12

Bi-modes are a compromise which transfers the difficulties Network Rail have experienced in delivering electrification schemes to the rolling stock and thereby the operator. By definition they have to be less reliable and energy efficient than fully electric rolling stock and will certainly be slower when operating in diesel mode. It would be very interesting to see a 35 year business case which sets out these distinct disadvantages against the pain of achieving full end to end electrification prior to introducing the fleet. My fag packet (and no this hasn't driven me to smoking yet) suggests that this isn't a very wise choice either financially or from an operational perspective when looking at the integrated railway over the long term. I worry that short term expediency is leading to long term strategic mistakes.

Graham   08/09/2017 at 16:13

When is this country going to think about the needs of the public and that electric trains are the future and not think in the typical civil service way of cheap and lets waste more taxpayers money on trains that should have been consigned to the scrapheap years ago

Lutz   08/09/2017 at 17:38

Once again, shouting before they are hurt. There is still some way to go before there is clarity around what is required before an implementation plan can be formed.

Jak Jaye   08/09/2017 at 22:40

Todays railway is an utter joke,along with 'Clock Work Fail' who really couldnt run a bath! and please can we hear less of the 'Northern Powerhouse'? as we havent one

Graham Nalty   09/09/2017 at 10:41

Surely the best plan is to get independent commercial advice on lowering the cost of electrification by people in commercially managed industries who have to get their costs as low as their competitors in order to survive. Certainly do this before considering such a retrograde step as Bi-mode trains.

Andrew Gwilt   09/09/2017 at 17:35

I think the electrification in the Northwest is a great idea because it will allow electric trains to operate services that has been operated with Diesel trains including the Pacers and more trains will be added once the electrification is completed. And it's eco-friendly aswell.

Huguenot   09/09/2017 at 21:31

The principal reason that current electrification costs are so high is that it is being over-engineered. There was nothing wrong with the equipment used in earlier schemes, and updating that should lower not raise the real-term cost. ECML and Midland Main Line electrifications were done on the cheap using headspan designs rather than gantries and cantilevers, and I am not suggesting a return to that as it increases the risk of failure. But unnecessary increases in electrical clearances, bridge parapet heights, stanchion sizes and foundation piles are some examples of current over-engineering. Get these back to what they were and the cost could fall dramatically. Trans-Pennine really does need the wires as that is the only way that speed and acceleration can be maintained up the gradients.

David Winter   10/09/2017 at 04:45

Bi-mode is yesterday's news. Hybrids facilitated by batteries, charging from electrification where available, using regenerative braking and carrying modest genset/s to top-up as necessary, are the future. The next generation of "electrification" will be by having recharge centres based on shielded side contact technology running a few miles each way from a key point in the network, locos and HMUs running on batteries between, and carrying gensets as backup/topup.

AJG89   10/09/2017 at 12:49

To be fair I agree on with David Winter has said.

Gabriel Oaks   12/09/2017 at 12:37

An interested point made although any new solution based on 'shielded side contact technology running a few miles each way' would need to conform with the Electricity at Works Regulations; most of the DC lines on NRIL do not - hence no expansion of these networks.

JOHN GREENWOOD   12/09/2017 at 13:19

There was Trans-Pennine electrification in the days of the Woodhead Tunnels. 1,500 V DC on the OLE did not fit in with other plans. I never saw the 76s and 77s in action but their performances I hope thoroughly humiliates all steam enthusiasts. Even mighty diesel locomotives needed to bow to a 76 or 77 at Sheffield Victoria, during traction exchange, for a passenger train to be hauled through to Manchester.

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