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DfT refuses to revisit scrapped electrification: ‘We will remain agnostic on solutions’

Lilian Greenwood, chair of the Transport Committee, has urged Chris Grayling to take her work seriously after receiving what she considered to be a thoroughly disappointing response from the government to an in-depth infrastructure investigation.

The committee’s investigation, concluded in June, laid out a series of recommendations to both the DfT and the ORR, particularly around the need to rebalance the economy and to revisit the importance of scrapped electrification schemes.

In its response to the report, published today, the government insisted that the cancelled electrification programmes would not be reinstated just for the sake of it, and advocated a different approach to investment instead: one where proposals for new enhancements focus on the outcomes needed, rather than already starting out by preaching pre-defined solutions from the get-go.

“In making decisions about whether an enhancement should progress through the pipeline we will consider whether it provides the best outcomes for passengers using the seven Principles for Investment set out in the RNEP [Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline],” the DfT said.

“This means that government will remain agnostic on how the outcome can best be achieved. The RNEP makes clear that all rail enhancements must be led by the needs that they are fulfilling rather than the methods by which they propose to fulfil them.”

The RNEP sets out a rolling programme of rail enhancements, including “relevant and value for money” electrification schemes. But these will only be progressed to the next stage when the government has “an appropriate understanding of how much it will cost, how long it will take, and the benefits it will deliver” – reportedly in an effort to avoid committing funding before schemes are fully developed.

In its June report, the committee had recommended that the Midland Main Line, Great Western Main Line and Lakes Line electrification schemes – scrapped by Grayling last year – be recategorised as ‘pending’ and placed in the RNEP for further development. If new battery and hydrogen technology is proven, the DfT and Network Rail should then make a comparative cost/benefit analysis against any outstanding electrification projects in the pipeline.

The government accepted the importance of the latter point, but clarified that there is no ‘pending’ categorisation in the RNEP and explained that schemes progress through the pipeline as the reach appropriate levels of maturity and robustness.

“In the case of the Midland Mainline, Great Western Mainline and Lakes Line electrification schemes, the passenger benefits are being provided through other means,” the DfT argued.

The department is, however, open to third-party proposals for private sector funding of existing or entirely new schemes, including solutions for the Midland Main Line. Network Rail has this week published a list of projects for which it is seeking third-party funding.

‘Disappointing in several respects’

In her response, Greenwood argued the government’s reaction to the recommendations were disappointing “in several respects, particularly around the DfT’s apparent unwillingness to engage with some of our key conclusions.”

“It has nothing to say on the long-term cost-effectiveness and wider sustainability benefits of railway electrification,” she added. “It provides very little detail on how it plans to implement emerging traction technologies such as battery and hydrogen power.

“We have published the responses today, without substantive comment—people can draw their own conclusions on their adequacy.

“The DfT and the secretary of state need to appreciate the role of the committee, which is to scrutinise the work of the department on behalf of Parliament and the public, and to engage with us properly.”

Greenwood wrote about the government’s electrification approach in the June/July edition of RTM.

(Top image c. Geoff Caddick, PA Wire)


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