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Triple electrification cancellation – a misstep from Grayling?

Following last week’s comprehensive set of announcements about HS2 and the closure of Parliament for recess, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there wouldn’t be any more news about major rail projects on the horizon anytime soon.

But having sparked anger after cancelling key sections of three major electrification programmes, Chris Grayling has now raised even more eyebrows by formally putting some weight behind the government’s ambition to support Crossrail 2.

This was despite the fact that the transport secretary had previously argued the overly expensive electrification projects were no longer needed elsewhere in the country due to new bi-mode trains, which allegedly already provide enough capacity and comfort without the need for disruptive work.

But according to a large poll of RTM readers, Grayling’s decision to scale back these electrification projects was a definite misstep.

A huge 80% of the 600+ survey respondents said that electrification in England was needed regardless of the new bi-mode trains in order to prepare the network for future needs and boost overall capacity.

Only 13% disagreed with this statement, and 7% said they were on the fence about the DfT’s decision and that there should have been more debate and consultation before final decisions were made.

But overwhelmingly, RTM readers voiced considerable opposition to the plans, which they argued should be scrapped – with going as far as calling Grayling a “massive failure”.

One reader, Henry Law, described bi-mode trains as a “bad idea” and an unnecessarily expensive solution.

“Diesel equipment has to be installed and mass is carried around uselessly under the wires. Electric traction equipment has to be installed and mass is carried around uselessly on routes which are not electrified. We end up with trains that are underpowered where there is no electrification,” he said.

“Traction changes on frequent services were managed perfectly satisfactorily at Rickmansworth between 1924 and 1960 and Bournemouth between 1967 and 1988. That this approach has been abandoned suggests a curious loss of memory within the industry.”

Many also agreed that the decision should not come as a surprise, given the failures of schemes such as the Great Western Main Line (GWML) electrification.

“If anyone is surprised by this, they haven't been paying attention. Since the cost of the GWML electrification has now more than tripled in cost, there is no way that this level of cost can be sustained, so it was inevitable that other electrification projects would be cancelled,” one reader said.

Another, Jerry Alderson, commented: “As lost posters have written, a lot of us have seen this coming. Back in 2009 when the first electrification schemes were announced, I warned colleagues not to push for more straight away because it was necessary to find the true cost of doing them before commissioning others.

“We didn't know the true cost anymore since the last electrification scheme of any size (Crewe-Kidsgrove was only eight miles) was around 1997 for Heathrow Express, and 1992 for the other schemes. Crucially we had lost the skills.

“Unfortunately the government got over-excited about electrification, because it does often make a lot of sense, and announced a whole series of schemes without knowing the true costs. Only now has Network Rail any idea and it is not cheap, not helped by its refusal to seek derogations from the latest EU standards.”

But one reader claimed that although it was disappointing that electrification is being curtailed, the inability of Network Rail to deliver electrification within budget and on time – despite the finite pot of public funds available – meant that the decision was a sensible compromise.

“Moreover, this decision does not preclude future electrification,” they said. “It is a compromise, of course – Class 801s are heavy EMUs compromising speed and acceleration when operating in diesel mode – but can we afford to continue throwing good money after bad into the money pit which is Network Rail?”

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J, Leicester   25/07/2017 at 12:17

I like to think those who read this site have a basic knowledge of the technical aspects of the railways... most of us, anyway! The flaws of the bi-mode concept are well-documented here now - poor acceleration, expensive and complex equipment, the need for additional stops to necessitate power mode changes and the worrying shift to their use with their original design (primary electric power with diesel as a back-up) flipped on its head. We called the latest news on the TPE route the moment the MML news broke. The government - and local councils up and down the land - see bi-mode trains as a holy grail to give the illusion of preparation for electrification, without having properly understood the nuances of using them on the routes they're proposed for. They're an easy press release to pass off as showing "green credentials" and "investment", despite actually being a blatant compromise on both accounts. With the exception of the GWML to Penzance, where serious engineering barriers to electrification exist (read: Dawlish sea wall), there isn't a single route where they are the preferable option from a technical standpoint.

Graham Nalty   25/07/2017 at 18:24

J, Leicester sums it up. Anyone with any real knowledge of railways knows bi-mode to be a very poor alternative to electrification. People want electric trains. What the minister said is an insult to anyone who knows railways. It would have been far better to have been honest about it and state that the increasing cost of electrification is not acceptable and that the Government was examining how to reduce costs - and this may result in bi-mode operation that may be inferior to electrification in the short term.

Paul Maher   25/07/2017 at 21:02

Low Energy Nuclear Reactors and new Graphene/ceramic ultracaps seem to be good match for Railroads. Why else would this NASA LENR video have a North Carolina Locomotive at the end of it?;_ylt=AwrSbDsZtqJW3CwAkQJXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTByNWU4cGh1BGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzYw--?p=Zawodny+NASA&fr=yfp-t-162#id=13&vid=28e463014354499cd41498d7a2f014d9&action=view This link is the Zawodny youtube with Locomotive Also, please consider the Anthropocene Institute's recent piece on LENR. Please download the PDF @pmaher_art

J, Leicester   26/07/2017 at 10:41

Nuke trains, huh? Wonder how their half-life compares to a Pacer. Seriously speaking though, the future of fuel-based traction seems to be hydrogen power - the Coradia iLINT has shown it to now be capable of at least powering regional MUs (HMUs?), but it seems a few years off being viable for intercity journeys. I doubt we'll see any in commercial use in the UK until at least the mid-2020s.

R Burch   26/07/2017 at 13:02

The electrification projects are all in jeopardy because there is not enough power available to run everything. We have shut down countless power stations and not replaced them yet. The HS2 project will be struggling for power and this might be a factor for cutting back on other schemes. If 3rd rail was considered in the southeast then battery support could be an option in that power taken in peak times would be replenished at off peak times. Perhaps 25000 volts AC is another subject, where complex inverters and chargers would be required, but it could make sense to store energy at off peak times to keep the trains rolling.

Jerry Alderson   26/07/2017 at 18:08

Re J of Leicester's comment "The flaws of the bi-mode: ... the need for additional stops to necessitate power mode changes." On the contrary, if Jamie Burles, MD of Greater Anglia, was correct when I asked him this last December. The GA bi-mode trains will switch power while moving. This means, for example, that the Norwich to Stansted Airport service will use the wires from Norwich until just before they end, and then use them from Ely North Junction all the way to Stansted - as opposed to only Ely to Stansted Airport. The ability to switch on the move means that new stops do not need to be introduced and the amount of diesel to be carried for a diagram is less. Mind you, his PowerPoint slides did refer to the bi-modes as being 'hybrids', which they most definitely are not. The GA bi-modes will use only one source of power at any time (a hybrid can use two).

David Faircloth   27/07/2017 at 00:49

Interesting comment by Jerry Alderson; whilst it has been clearly stated in a number of reports that the Hitachi bi-modes can change "on the fly", I've read somewhere that whether or not it would be possible for GA's Stadler trains was still under discussion. Of course a bi-product of being able to use the trains in the way GA are proposing is that Norwich will become totally electric apart from EMT's 158s, and Cambridge with the exception of XC's 'Tuirbostars'; and Ely will change from a majority diesel station to a majority electric one. Were any journey time savings suggested? 153s and 156s are quite brisk accelerators, but will using electric power between Norwich and Crown Point save any seconds? With regard to the future, we're all guilty of thinking about the adoption of Hitachi's trains for the MML; I wonder if any bidder for the replacement franchise gamble and suggest something new which follows the Stadler idea - sort of! - and provides an EMU with a mobile, self propelled, power station at each end rather than in the middle? Off wires, the mobile power station provides some power for itself and along the train, and when under wires power flows the other way, fed from a pantograph/transformer/etc under one of the coaches; and when full electrification comes, all that goes is the end power stations, and with a few mods two of them become double diesels for freight haulage. Is this feasible?

John   30/07/2017 at 18:24

Craosrail 2 gets the nod while the North's electrification is canned. Typical.

John   30/07/2017 at 18:32

You may find battery trains will come to the fore. Batteries fill gaps like running though low tunnels and under low bridges where wires cannot be fitted. I can think of the Crewe to Chester service on the mainlines. The Wrexham to Bidston/Birkenhead could be battery/electric and run right into the Liverpool Merseyrail tunnels. The lithium-ion battery has been given [b]THREE times[/b] the storage by a 96 yr old man, Dr John Goodenough. THREE times the storage of the current Li-ion batteries, smaller, a 5 minute charge time, is non-flammable, lighter, with NO degradation after several thousand charging cycles. And, it's near ready for production, and should be cheaper to produce. Smart phones will last 4 days not one day. If it goes to market in volume and the price drops as a result, this is `game changer`. Full EV vehicles are then here and bye, bye polluting petro fuels. It is also the other applications that add much value overall. I can see them in battery trains to save on the excessive cost of overhead wires and planes, with a generator on board.

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