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Grayling: ‘No obvious passenger benefit’ to Midland Main Line electrification

Transport secretary Chris Grayling told the Commons Transport Committee yesterday that his decision to cancel further electrification on the Midland Main Line north of Kettering came down to the value for money provided by the project.

In a tough afternoon for the secretary, he was grilled on his approach to nationwide electrification after the cancellation of two major plans in August last year, including both the East Midlands work and the Great Western route between Cardiff and Swansea.

Committee chair Lilian Greenwood asked Grayling why he had made the decision to scrap the projects despite the apparent economic and environmental benefits listed in the initial business cases.

The secretary defended his highly contentious decision by claiming that passengers had been saved from years of disruption, with the DfT choosing to use bi-mode trains on these services instead.

After taking questions on the use of bi-mode trains, which have been criticised for their day-to-day cost and negative effect on the environmental, Grayling said that he expected British railways to move towards hydrogen-fuelled stock in future.

However, Greenwood was not impressed with the transport secretary’s explanation for cancelling the projects, specifically quizzing him on the benefit-cost ratio (BCR) analyses that he had provided.

“I think you should account for and justify the decision that you made and we simply do not have that information,” she said.

Grayling responded by saying that any electrification would have to be followed by the development of new rolling stock on these networks, a move that is not completely necessary because of the availability of bi-mode trains.

He went on to explain that plans to electrify the Midland Main Line were not cost-effective, especially when the DfT has other priorities to explore across the country.

“I could not see the rationale in spending a billion pounds saving a minute on the journey time to Sheffield rather than spending the money on projects elsewhere in the network that would make a genuine capacity difference,” he commented.

Grayling added that there were “no obvious passenger benefits” to this electrification plan, compared to other capacity improvement projects on the network and said he wanted “to deliver the best possible outcome for passengers”

He said that, when the plans were developed six years ago, it had not been clear to the government that there would be so many difficulties in the implementation of such schemes.

“I suspect that, back in 2012, the electrification programme seemed to be simpler and easier to achieve than it actually is,” Grayling said.

Although he defended his decision to scrap specific projects, the transport secretary did admit that some of the electrification that is currently underway has been behind schedule.

He said: “The progress of electrification is not going as smoothly as I would have wished.”

On the subject of Great Western route electrification between Cardiff and Swansea, the Grayling said there would have been years of disruption to local residents and that bi-mode operations have brought all the benefits of full electrification without these problems.

“I don’t buy the argument that any rail user is losing out as a result of this. Actually, we’ve been very careful to protect the passenger benefits,” Grayling said.

“We’ve really got to get away from the idea that the mode of traction on a train is what determines the passenger experience.”

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Chris 'Failing' Grayling   23/01/2018 at 12:18

“We’ve really got to get away from the idea that the mode of traction on a train is what determines the passenger experience.” It does determine the amount of pollution and environmental damage though

Bone Shaker   23/01/2018 at 12:20

No obvious benefits....apart from quieter, less wear on track, less maintenance, better reliability, increased capacity from being able to run trains closer together, better acceleration/deceleration, better for the environment (no heavy-oil unfiltered diesel emissions), usually ride better due to less weight. In my personal 'passenger experience' electric trains are better in every respect. Having said that there are particular difficulties in installing overhead infrastructure just north of Derby (through Belper for instance) due to very constrained route and lots of bridges....

Huguenot   23/01/2018 at 13:09

Grayling is floundering. The benefits of full electrification are in better acceleration (important on the very curvacious MML) as well as reduced pollution and lower train weight than bi-modes. The problems of the GWML won't be repeated elsewhere: different OHLE is being installed between Bedford and Corby. As for the statement "any electrification would have to be followed by the development of new rolling stock on these networks, a move that is not completely necessary because of the availability of bi-mode trains" pre-judges what new stock would be used. The DfT has already said that new bi-modes should be provided for Derby/ Nottingham/ Sheffield services, despite the fact that the Meridians could be provided with a pantograph/ transformer car as they are only halfway through their life (this would provide extra seating capacity too).

Pete   23/01/2018 at 13:56

Chris “The Blagger” Grayling in action again. Only in politics could you reach and retain such a senior position whilst exhibiting no knowledge of your field.

Icn   23/01/2018 at 15:05

Being the country that introduced passenger trains to the world, we're are not going to show them how to go backwards. You couldn't make it up!

JPG   23/01/2018 at 15:07

Is Grayling living on this planet. Bi Mode trains are carrying both Electric Traction and Diesel Engines plus fuel so we get slower/ heavier trains resulting infrastructure wear generated for Bi Mode traction without counting the extra pollution generated .What happened to the fast clean experience that the continent enjoys and central Scotland .

Manek Dubash   23/01/2018 at 15:11

And haven't electric trains been proven to attract more passengers because of all the benefits already cited? Grayling knows nothing.

Jon Hillas   23/01/2018 at 15:38

I could get really wound up with the incessant lies this man produces on a weekly basis but i think most people think hes full of shit Blair thought he could carry on just ignoring the people unfortunately when this clowns out of work he will get a payout most people wont earn in 10 years All politicians should be scored like most of the companies they employ give them a task and if they dont reach their key performance indicators they should have their salary substantially reduced

Neville Hill   23/01/2018 at 16:07

Huguenot - I agree, not only could pantographs be put on Meridians, but the country is also about to be flooded with unwanted EMUs displaced by widespread new train procurement AND there are existing production lines ready to build new EMUs practically 'off the shelf'. So Grayling's comment about the 'development of new rolling stock' being necessary is hugely misleading. It's easy to criticise senior politicians when we don't have to carry their responsibilities, but it would be much easier to take them seriously if they would only admit what they don't know...

Sandy   23/01/2018 at 16:27

If the experience of the Pennine routes is anything to go by, it will be generations before anyone gets electric trains never mind hydrogen-fuelled ones in the UK . The Northern Poorhouse is an exemplar of the gross lack of any political intent beyond the next election/ pension. If DB in Germany can have H2 trains by 2021, where are ours? The Govt seems to be happy to fill our environment with rail diesel fumes, while talking up autonomous electric road trains. Meanwhile Boris is planning a totally insane and pointless Channel Bridge. I agree with Neville and Pete that politicians should not be given offices about which they know nothing, but should have the guts to admit that they don't know.

Asctty   23/01/2018 at 16:43

How can he possibly defend the ridiculous cost of HS2 up to Sheffield and Leeds then when any percieved travel time benefits over exisiting MML times to London will evaporate due to the time it will take to get to the hubs such as Toton?

Walace58   23/01/2018 at 18:19

Are bi-mode diesel electric, mechanical or hydraulic? If the first surely all the benefits of electric traction

Gabriel Oaks   23/01/2018 at 19:00

No obvious benefit to having a Transport Secretary either......

IC2000   23/01/2018 at 19:01

@walace58, no. As a diesel electic, the power available for traction is determined by the output of the diesel engines which is generally considerably less than when drawing power straight from the catenary.

Nickk   23/01/2018 at 19:06

Once again I re-iterate that there is not enough generating capacity in the UK for all these extras that everyone is demanding. When the old 100W bulbs were banned this effectively saved TWO power stations worth of wasted leccy. And talking about that irritating word, the whole business of Smart Meters is really about getting people to see how much they're spending, in the vain hopes that usage will reduce and save more power stations - we can then run the ridiculous High Speed 2 trains and charge our electric cars. Wind power is fine when it's blowing, likewise solar during the day but it can't be relied on.

John Grant   23/01/2018 at 19:51

Wind & solar power would be an ideal way to make hydrogen, especially off-shore wind. Does anyone know how the weight of fuel cells compares with diesel engines? At least the fuel should be lighter? Also, by adding a battery or supercapacitor you don't need the power plant to supply all the energy for acceleration (as with KERS in Formula One).

Graham A. Howarth   23/01/2018 at 21:00

I am a lifelong Conservative voter and supporter but by god I despair of failing Grayling. Diesel is refined from crude oil which is a finite resource and comes from problem areas of the world. God forbid a war starts in the middle east and the Straits of Hormuz get blocked etc. Crude will go to 200+ bucks a barrel. A long term strategy of progressive electrification + nuclear power stations etc, reduces political reliance on crude, improves the environment, improves wear and tear and maintenance, acceleration and renews Victorian infrastructure. Bimodes are great - if - and a big IF - they are a measure to allow a progressive steady rolling programme of electrification. I despair Mr Grayling - defer schemes, delay them - but cancel -- ye gods.

John P Hughes   23/01/2018 at 22:14

Chris Grayling is both hopeless and complacent at the same time. He has the latest in a long line of Transport Secretaries who were on the down escalator politically and were poor as holder of the office.Philip Hammond, Ruth Kelly, Gavin Strang, Brian Mawhinney, Cecil Parkinson..... they stretch back decades. It never seems to get any better.

Andrew Gwilt   24/01/2018 at 06:04

I bet he’s becoming like Sir Richard Beeching who severed and closed most of the railways across the UK before he passed away.

Les   24/01/2018 at 06:31

Slightly out there but if the nuclear reactor of a war ship is about the size of a washing machine then if we scale that down then we could have nuclear powered trains and trucks and cars. Apart from the potential dangers of which I’m sure isn’t beyond the whit of man I think why not.

Steveb   24/01/2018 at 08:47

I wonder what answer would be if a TV interviewer asked Grayling: "What is your opinion on the 'Sparks Effect'?"...

Runwitsnowman   24/01/2018 at 08:47

The man is an idiot

Graham Nalty   24/01/2018 at 10:44

The reason that the business case is so much reduced when HS2 is taken into account is because the HS2 figures for passengers abstracted from the Midland main Line when HS2 is built are wrong. All these figures appear to be based on allowing an interchange time of only 5 minutes for interchange at Toton between HS2 train and local train. This would be impossible to achieve in practice and similar interchange times on the most comparable service on the real railway go from 14 minutes to 23 minutes. That is the real interchange time that passengers will experience when HS2 is built. So the figures that the Government are using for passengers for Derby and Nottingham that will abstract to HS2 are hopelessly wrong. Get the figures right before even thinking of cancelling electrification.

Fat Man   24/01/2018 at 12:34

I believe they tried that in the 50s & 60s Les, there was even a reactor power plane prototype knocking around. In the end they were just too heavy and needed too much shielding to be of any practical use. Better off using the electricity they generate off the grid.

Lutz   24/01/2018 at 18:53

@Chris 'Failing' Grayling The environment is mainly the concern of activists and thought-police. The average passenger does not give a damn about the environment when they need to get somewhere - a seat, on-time arrival and a speedy stress-free journey is all that matters.

John Gilbert   25/01/2018 at 00:30

Re "Lutz' " comment. This comment is typical of far too many British people, or should I say English people? So many of us have no imagination, no drive, no consciousness of what is best, just an acceptance of the mediocre. This enables people like Grayling to feed off such low ambitions. Whereas in Germany we read of new electrification from Munich and Ulm to Lindau; relatively minor lines, but of course, all the rest are already electrified! Electrification proceeds all over the world - except in the southern half of this miserable island.

Rail Realist   26/01/2018 at 21:39

I have read all the emotive comments on this subject but can we step back a minute and examine the crucial elements. Yes, it is disappointing that both MML and GWML electrifications have been scaled back with Trans Pennine in apparent limbo land. However with the GWML scheme 3 times over budget and suffering long delays, is it really surprising that someone questions whether this is good value for money. There is no bottomless pit of finance and it is a government's duty to spend wisely. As to bi-mode trains, yes they will always be heavier but will not necessarily always have a worse performance in diesel mode. That is simply a question as to how much power you are prepared to specify for each mode. I travel regularly between Euston and Birmingham and the substitution of Voyagers for Pendolinos is quite common. Both have the same performance and I will not start a debate on relative comfort. Yes diesel power will always produce exhaust fumes but modern diesel engines are a lot cleaner than those of even 5 years ago. But bi mode does not always mean diesel. Watch what is happening in the automotive industry; the advance of electric vehicles is gathering pace and it is quite likely that within 5 years, electric cars will be the vehicle of choice. Surely the technology has to be transferable and in many ways suits rail better than road as re-charging can take place from where electrification exists. Train operators would love to have a go anywhere train as this enables much greater journey opportunities. Trials of alternative power for trains are regularly reported in RTM and elsewhere, it is going to happen. Electrification will always have its place but maybe the goal of electrifying everything will not be the ultimate solution to rail travel that past generations have predicted

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