Rail Industry Focus


Powering up

Source: Rail Technology Magazine June/July 2013

Peter Dearman, the then-head of energy at Network Rail, spoke at the IMechE colloquium on electrification at Derby Roundhouse about the need for electrification and the challenges of delivering such a huge programme after years where little has been done.

The above picture shows Balham Junction in 1920, with OLE in place – before it was taken down in 1926. Peter Dearman jokes that when he retires, he’s going to write a book called ‘This, And Other Tragic Mistakes’. “We had an AC electrified railway south of the river long before we had it north,” he says.

Dearman, then Network Rail’s head of energy is, unsurprisingly, an evangelist for electrification who’s thrilled at the major programme of works now in the pipeline across the country – though he doesn’t underestimate the challenges either.

Speaking at an IMechE colloquium organised to discuss the upcoming programmes, Dearman (who has since left Network Rail to become UK director of engineering for Systra) said: “After many years of being in the wilderness, really, electrification has returned to the agenda – and it’s fantastic to have electrification as a verb again! For years, we’ve talked about it as just a fixed asset, something we’ve already got. But now it’s something we do.”

But electrification is not just done for its own sake or to save a few pennies. Dearman explained: “A colleague of mine has a way of expressing this which puts it into a different context: ‘Fundamentally, we’re addressing the energy and carbon challenges of the 21st century railway’.

“We have to electrify the railway to do that, but that’s why we’ve got this programme.

“The fact we’ve got this programme represents a major shift in the attitude of the industry and, of course, of the Government. Some of you will remember a DfT document published six and a half years ago, which I’ll paraphrase – ‘electrification is dead, long live diesels’.

“It went onto articulate why it might be a good idea to take the wires down north of Newcastle, and do all sorts of bizarre things like building more diesel trains and oil-burning monsters. I’m glad to say there’s been a shift in that assessment largely because of the economic position. Because, ultimately, it’s all about energy. Across this century, energy costs are destined to rise sharply.”

He explained that a reduction in discovery of new supplies of oil, combined with rocketing demand in the developing world, especially China, India and Brazil, means that within decades, oil is going to become more and more rare, and expensive.

“Energy flexibility and conservation are our big issues, and are increasingly significant,” he said. “So why electrify the railway? It’s perceived as a clean technology. You can have all sorts of esoteric arguments saying ‘you’re still burning coal in a power station somewhere’, and ‘gasfired power stations produce carbon’, and that is true today. But, there’s a programme of building atomic power stations, which gets an awful lot of ridiculous press coverage…Those power stations will get built – they have to. Be in no doubt, if we don’t, some of your children or grandchildren will be eating their dinners off candle-lit tables. Also, the development of renewable technologies will move forward.

“A railway that has oil-burning trains is stuck with oil-burning motors. A railway that’s electric can tap into anything. It’s future-proof.”

Of course, he added, electric trains are lighter, cause less track damage, less stress to bridges and viaducts. “The infrastructure, as a result, has an extended life. So an electrified railway is cheaper to run than a diesel railway.”

By 2050, he said, the price of oil will be “into the stratosphere”. “That isn’t long away, althought feels like it today. If we don’t start now, it’ll be too late.”

He gave a list of electrification programmes now authorised (including, Gospel Oak – Barking, though funding has not been committed for that project yet).

“That challenges us: we’re going from famine to feast,” Dearman said. “There will need to be an intense period of equipment development. We’ve got to change and improve some of our technologies.”

He spoke of a “period of catch-up” and “an intense construction programme, which will test manufacturers, designers and construction companies, and project/programme managers”.

The difficulties of access and possessions alone will be a challenge, he said, second only to the incredible logistics challenge.

He praised the abilities and quality of the high output plant equipment Network Rail has bought, but noted that roughly 20% of any route isn’t “high output-able” – the junctions, stations and so on. These also happen to be the parts of the network where it’s most difficult to get possessions, he noted.

Upgrading these sections using conventional methods will require vast amounts of plant, manpower and planning – the civils works alone include hundreds of structures, and almost all will need to be done over bank holidays. As part of the electrification programme, Dearman said, the railway will build, test and commission equipment of a volume equivalent in scale to a small DNO, including grid supplies, transformers, switchgear/ substations, protection and control including fibre optic communications links, cables and control centres.

He said the industry will need to install 200 OLE foundations a week for six years, as well as 200 steel support structures, eight miles of OLE wiring a week, a new substation every 3 weeks, a new grid supply every four months. The challenge in terms of materials, manpower, machines and access will be phenomenal, he said – but the result will be worth it.


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

rail technology magazine tv

more videos >

latest rail news

View all News

rail industry focus

View all News

last word

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

Encouraging youngsters to be safe on the railway

This summer, Arriva Group's CrossCountry and the Scout Association joined to launch a new partnership to promote rail safety among young people. Chris Leech MBE, business community manager at the TOC, gives RTM an update on the innovative scheme. Recognising that young people are more likely to take a risk trespassing on railway tracks, C... more > more last word articles >


Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

24/06/2019Andrew Haines, CE of Network Rail, tells BBC News his organisation could issue future rail franchises

Andrew Haines, the Chief Executive of Network Rail, has told the Today programme on Radio ... more >

'the sleepers' daily blog

On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

29/06/2020On the right track, Sulzer is awarded RISAS accreditation for Nottingham Service Centre

Following an independent audit, Sulzer’s Nottingham Service Centre has been accepted as part of the rail industry supplier approval scheme (RISAS). The accreditation reinforces the high-quality standards that are maintained by Sulzer’s network of independent repair facilities across the UK and further afield in its global network. ... more >
read more blog posts from 'the sleeper' >


The challenge of completing Crossrail

05/07/2019The challenge of completing Crossrail

With a new plan now in place to deliver Crossrail, Hedley Ayres, National Audit Office manager, major projects and programmes, takes a look at ho... more >
Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

04/07/2019Preparing the industry to deliver trains for the future

The move to decarbonise the rail network involves shifting to cleaner modes of traction by 2050. David Clarke, technical director at the Railway ... more >
Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

02/07/2019Sunshine future beckons for South Wales Railways, says 10:10 Climate Action’s Leo Murray

Smart electrification is the way to boost clean energy resources, argues Leo Murray, director at 10:10 Climate Action. Contractors are clear... more >
Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

02/07/2019Ambition doesn’t have to be expensive, says Midland Connect's Maria Machancoses

The TCR Midlands conference is only days away and tickets are going fast for the sector event of the year at the Vox Conference Centre in Birming... more >