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Freight electrification in CP6 looks ‘distant’ due to CP5 overruns

The prospect of freight electrification in CP6 is beginning to look distant because of the electrification overruns in CP5, according to Maggie Simpson, executive director at the Rail Freight Group. 

She told MPs: “We are already seeing talk of over-runs on the existing schemes that are underway and funded today. So the prospect of rail freight electrification in CP6 is beginning to look a little more distant as we see schemes delayed in CP5. So, where we thought there might be opportunities in the next five-year period, I’m not so sure that we are consciously aware that they will happen.” 

Both the Great Western Main Line electrification project and the £160m electrification of the Manchester-Liverpool route via Eccles and Newton-le-Willows have suffered delays, cost inflation and teething troubles with plant and equipment in recent months. 

Asked for clarification on her comments by RTM, Simpson told us: "Generally if funded schemes are slipping into CP6, the ability to do any new ones must be reduced. For us, Electric Spine elements are already slipped, I do not know where Midland Main Line electrification is up to but the capacity works at Leicester – which are critical to F2N [Felixstowe to Nuneaton] – appear to have slipped into CP6. Interim solutions are being sought to deliver partial benefits, but it's unclear yet what the outputs are."

At yesterday’s ‘Investing in the Railway’ Transport Select Committee evidence session, Simpson said a long-term strategy for electrifying freight haulage in the UK is needed. 

“If we’re taking a long-term perspective, we can’t carry on with diesel haulage indefinitely,” she said. “The environmental demands, comparing that to a road haulage sector that is making ever-fewer emissions, will mean we need to keep up.  

“But it is a difficult chicken-and-egg situation; getting the network equipped for electric freight before the operators are in a position to invest in locomotives.” 

While government has meant continued investment in the rail network for the last five to 10 years, policy decisions have tended to focus on passenger railways, and freight has been seen as “an inconvenient side-effect at times”. Simpson also argued that there does not appear to be an overarching strategy for freight and logistic movement in the UK. 

Committee chair Louise Ellman MP had asked how important electrification was to the freight sector. In response, John Smith, managing director at GB Railfreight, argued that there are certain elements of what the industry does that would support electric haulage, particularly the inter-modal market, because some of the inland terminals are already electrified. 

“Things like the ‘electric spine’, there are elements of that would be good for rail freight, but not all of it is necessarily good for us,” he said. Asked to elaborate on this by Ellman, Smith stated that “parts are missed”. 

“For instance, the route between Nuneaton and Birmingham should be electrified,” he said. “If you look at the service we run from Felixstowe to Birmingham, other than 10 miles at the start, which is Felixstowe and Ipswich, and 10 miles at the end, which is between Nuneaton and Water Orton near Birmingham, the rest of the line is electrified. We could, fully, electrically haul on that line. But what we practically do is arrive at each end and attach a diesel locomotive or run diesel throughout, which is the common practice.” 

Lindsay Durham, head of rail strategy at Freightliner Group, added that there needs a long-term strategy over the coming decades that will move towards more electrified freight. But it needs to be done holistically. 

A Network Rail spokesperson told RTM after the evidence session: “Network Rail carries out the long-term planning process for freight looking 30 years ahead, involving funders, operators and wider stakeholders. We are producing route studies and an overarching freight strategy for CP6 which includes all key aspects of capability and capacity. The document produced as part of this will also look at electrification plans including an assessment of the potential specification and capabilities for the next generation of electric traction.”

When MPs quizzed transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin MP about electrification overruns in Parliament recently, he responded: “I do not like to be party political, but considering that the last government managed to electrify no more than 10 miles of railway in 13 years, Labour members should not be giving any lectures to a government who have announced plans to electrify more than 800 miles of railway. I am very proud of what we are doing. Of course there are challenges with electrification…We have ambitious plans for electrification and it is right that we ensure they are delivered in a practical and timely manner.” 

Labour’s Mary Creagh MP asked: “In May when I asked the Secretary of State about problems with the electrification of the Great Western main line, he said that ‘there will always be problems’. Will he confirm that the Great Western £1.1bn electrification project is now a £1.6bn electrification project, and will he say which electrification projects will be delayed or cancelled when his department has concluded its panic review of his flagship projects?” 

McLoughlin replied: “A ‘panic’ review of a project that is more ambitious than anything the last government ever dreamed of? I would have thought there would be a consensus across the House for the huge investment that we are putting into the railways through Network Rail. I am working with Network Rail and it is working with me to ensure that we get the electrification programme delivered, and within an overall budget.” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email 


Lutz   05/12/2014 at 18:23

It would appear to be appropriate to look at taking the management of the large electrification schemes away from NR and putting them into the hands of a more capable organisation that can demonstrate a history of delivering complex infrastructure programs on time and to budget. Perhaps the Rail Freight Group would be a suitable vehicle for facilitating this. However, a number of the comments reported above seem to be somewhat disingenuous - the RFG has full input to the evolving planning undertaken by NR; is not possibly the case that the RFG is lacking in it's own strategy? It currently looks a light 'back of the fag packet' and driven by 'schoolies' for them to be shouting too loud. They may also want to start putting up some of the funding for these projects.

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