Climate on brink. Rail easiest to decarbonise. So let’s get on with it.

Electrics at Leeds. Network Rail’s traction decarbonisation network strategy (TDNS) says roundly 86% of unelectrified tracks should be wired. Hydrogen trains could fill the gap on little more than a tenth of that, with batteries on remaining short branch lines. Already, modal transfer from air or road to rail makes carbon sense. Trains are simply most energy-efficient.
The recent IPCC report says we are approaching the last chance to decarbonise our whole economy and avoid global disaster. It can be done. Let’s get on with it.

In the North, remember the 2015 task force report Northern Sparks ( called for electrification of 12 lines in an initial 5-year plan. Our Calder Valley line tops the list on business, economic and environmental criteria.

TIME is up. This week (9 August) saw publication of IPCC’s sixth report ( To prevent disaster the world has to cut carbon dioxide emissions this decade. The climate summit COP26 in Glasgow this Autumn is now surely the last chance to turn words into action.

Alok Sharma MP, climate minister and COP26 president has said that we are almost out of time in dealing with global heating. This autumn’s international summit is critical.

So how is the UK setting an example? The government published its transport decarbonisation strategy in July ( The strategy includes all transport from walking and cycling through, buses, cars and lorries to ships and aircraft.

Rail is easiest to make carbon-free. With the proven technology of overhead electrification – coupled with generation of electricity from renewables such as wind energy – decarbonisation of rail is relatively easy. And Network Rail has been getting on with the job through its traction decarbonisation and network strategy (TDNS) published a year ago. TDNS envisages around 86% existing diesel-powered routes being electrified. Much discussed hydrogen trains could cover just 9%, batteries 5%.

All systems that do “work” waste energy. It’s a law of thermodynamics. The efficiencies of different traction systems for rail are approximately:

electric 81% (i.e. 19% wasted)

battery 69% (31% wasted)

hydrogen 33% – which means roughly two thirds of the original energy is wasted making the hydrogen by electrolysis, compressing into tanks, using fuel cell to regenerate electricity and the final electric motor transmission. That is 2.5 times as much wastage as a pure electric train.

Batteries are expected to become better at storing energy and may become suitable for more routes. But for the foreseeable future batteries are likely to be restricted to short branch lines where recharging is possible at least at one end, and short gaps on longer routes, where the batteries can recharge from the overhead in between.

Electrification is very important for freight as well as passenger. A study quoted by the Rail Industry Association, showed how just 800km of electrification would enable freight, currently almost entirely diesel-hauled could be transformed to around up to 75% electric ( ). It is not feasible to run long distance freight trains using batteries or hydrogen hydrogen because “energy density” these forms of storage is too low.

Electrification has to start without further delay. Scotland has effectively has a rolling programme. Work is under way in the Welsh valleys. England is still waiting. It is is six years since the Northern Electrification Task Force published its Northern Sparks report, advocating a programme of electrification with our Calder Valley line at top of list.

A rolling programme coupled with smarter engineering techniques will cut costs substantially.

The “Williams-Shapps” rail reform white paper said a programme would be drawn up and costed by the new rail “guiding mind” Great British Railways. That sounds like another two years’ wait. Let’s get on with it now.

White paper step forward on electrification?

Strongest hint yet of a rolling programme. But must we really wait for “feet under table” at Great British Railways?

THE government’s Great British Railways white paper says “Transport generates over a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, … the largest emitting sector of the economy. But rail produces around 1% of Great Britain’s transport emissions, despite carrying almost 10% of all passenger miles and nearly 9% of freight moved before the pandemic.”[1]

We say absolutely right. Rail already has the capability to move passenger and goods with net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. “ There are huge opportunities for rail to contribute … through further electrification.” That, at last, is getting close to what we should be hearing. The document continues:

Electrification is likely to be the main way of decarbonising the majority of the network. Electrification does not merely decarbonise existing rail journeys: it has a clear record of attracting new passengers and freight customers to rail, the so called ‘sparks effect’, thereby decarbonising journeys that would otherwise have been by road. The government has announced almost £600 million to start work on electrifying the Trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester, design work to extend electrification to Market Harborough is underway, and the government will announce further electrification projects in England … shortly.

That may not be quite a commitment to a rolling programme, but is the nearest we’ve had yet. It’s not absolutely clear if this is a commitment to full electrification of the route through Huddersfield and Stalybridge but it feels like a strong hint. Market Harborough is on the Midland Main Line where, the next step must surely be through to Nottingham Sheffield and on to Leeds. We want to see these commitments firmed up, beyond vague ministerial (indeed prime ministerial) promises to a national programme that includes the March 2015 Northern Sparks task force recommendations headed by our full Calder Valley Line.

Note: “the main way” of decarbonising the majority of the network. We make no apology here for repeating figures showing what the split between electrification, battery power and hydrogen should be – based on Network Rail’s traction decarbonisation network strategy published last autumn. We think the DfT and ministers get this.

The worry is the word “shortly”. Here’s the next bit. You can spot our slight concern here: “Great British Railways will bring forward costed options to decarbonise the whole network to meet the government’s commitment to a net-zero society as part of the 30-year strategy. These plans will help to kickstart innovation and change across the sector, support long-term funding commitments and build on the forthcoming Transport Decarbonisation Plan and Network Rail’s recent Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy.

So the new “guiding mind” of our national rail network will offer options with price tags to the government. Meanwhile the DfT’s transport decarbonisation plan is coming soon. And at least the ground-breaking TDNS is acknowledged. But does this mean we have to wait until the still-to-be-appointed chief executive of GBR has established their feet under the table? Surely, Network Rail has schemes that it can be getting on with, and needs to be drawing up a rolling programme now? Yes, we have said it before, but let’s start getting electrification done.

Over and over again rail industry bodies call for ongoing electrification where teams stay together, developing and improving techniques as they move from scheme to scheme. This is network electrification, it reduces the overall costs, and multiplies the benefits as it cuts the number of non-electric trains operating “under the wires”. In Scotland all four routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow are electrified and there’s a plan to electrify all but the most remote outposts of the rail network. That’s a local example of good practice for the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year. Even better would be a plan for the rest of the UK to catch up with Scotland.

Neighbouring schemes have mutual benefits – like the Calder Valley line naturally following on or even getting started in tandem with TransPennine Route Upgrade.

We do not disagree that some routes will have battery or hydrogen powered trains. Batteries and hydrogen are important ways of storing energy – but not the only ones. Storage is essential because the wind does not blow all the time even out at sea where the turbines spin. But hydrogen and battery powered trains may – in terms of track miles needing to be decarbonised – be no more than 15% of the total. The white paper says:

“Battery and hydrogen-powered trains will be trialled for passenger routes where conventional electrification is an uneconomic solution, in order to support the government’s ambition to remove diesel-only trains from the network by 2040. Advances in technology, deployment and more appropriate regulation will be instrumental to achieving this in an affordable way, while also minimising disruption to passengers and freight customers.

“Trialled” – is someone admitting here that battery and hydrogen trains have still to be proven? And “diesel-only trains” removed from the network by 2040 – does that mean there will still be diesel bi-modes running, still wasting energy carrying around dead weight, still increasing maintenance costs, still burning carbon? Of course there are schemes under development to take the diesel engines out of electro-diesel bimodes and replace them with batteries – a form of electrification “without wires”, albeit limited. 

           And “where conventional electrification is an uneconomic solution” – who decides on the economics?

We know that a rolling programme:

  • will cut costs of wiring, maybe by a third, maybe even by half.

We also know that electric trains:

  • use less energy to run because overhead wires are the most efficient way of delivering traction energy. So they are cheaper to buy and cheaper to run.
  • are much less complicated than diesels, bi-modes or hydrogen-power meaning they are more reliable and cheaper to maintain.

And electrics deliver business benefits:

  • Lower mass, carrying  more passengers for the same amount of power;
  • Better acceleration reducing journey times even with more stops serving more stations on lines such as the Calder Valley;
  • Attractive to would-be passengers as clean, quiet, more spacious and more modern – and green. That’s the sparks effect mentioned in the white paper.

Now add in the economic benefit of having clean air, safety, roads freed of congestion by having more people using public transport, and saving future generations from climate catastrophe. Surely, then you have the economic case. With a stake in both tracks and trains Great British Railways should put the case effectively.  Grant Shapps must get the message to the Treasury. And readers, please tell your MPs!

Network Rail’s traction decarbonisation network strategy (TDNS) Solutions for unelectrified network of tracks (track-km figures reported in Rail Engineer, Nov/Dec 2020) Track-km required (pesent diesel-only lines):
Electrification 13040 (86.1%)
Hydrogen trains 1300 (8.6%)
Battery trains 800 (5.3%)
Total “to do” 15140 (100%)  

Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy – Interim Programme Business Case ( and  Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy – Executive Summary (

Network Rail draws up list of ‘no regret’ electrification schemes – New Civil Engineer

[1] Great British Railways The Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Transport by Command of Her Majesty May 2021: section 52, page 88. Available here: Great British Railways (

Surely it is time for action on TransPennine upgrade and Northern Sparks!

The Electric Railway Charter was launched by groups on the Calder Valley Line in 2018. We campaign for a clean, modern zero-carbon railway by means of a rolling programme of electrification. The Calder Valley route through Bradford and Calderdale to Rochdale, Manchester, East Lancashire and Preston was top-ranked scheme of the Northern Sparks report in March 2015.

A perfect storm of recent political announcements heats up the argument for urgent action to decarbonise transport – action that must include electrification of all strategic rail lines. Electrified railways are the most efficient means of supplying zero-carbon traction energy.   Electric Railway Charter campaigners in the Pennines welcome the recent  announcement by Boris Johnson (4 December 2020) of enhanced greenhouse gas targets. We say the time must surely now be right to commit to long-promised enhancement schemes, and a rolling programme of electrification that will pay for itself through future savings in train operating costs, cost as well as carbon cuts.  

But the recent spending review cut £1bn from Network Rail’s infrastructure enhancement budget. And years continue to pass in the wait for visible progress on projects like the Huddersfield line TransPennine route upgrade (first announced in 2011), and the Northern Sparks task force recommendations (March 2015). Northern Sparks recommended – just as a start! – a 5-year programme of electrification across the North of England. That was 12 schemes with the Calder Valley Leeds-Manchester/Preston given top ranking.

The Prime Minister promises a 68% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (compare with 1990). Within that, transport must have a programme to become zero carbon. For our passengers and freight, Network Rail’s traction decarbonisation network strategy (TDNS) published in September showed that the vast majority of present diesel-operated railways need to be electrified. Alternatives such as hydrogen will be for a minority of mainly more lightly used or remote routes. 

Disappointingly, there was no commitment on the need for rolling rail electrification in the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak’s autumn spending review. We support the response by Railfuture last week: Railfuture | Press release 26th November 2020 . Rail campaigners welcome (still somewhat tentative) plans for a selection of line reopenings and new stations, but more strategic needs fail to be addressed. The later-revealed cut of £1bn from Network Rail’s 5-year enhancements budget threatens essential projects at a time when rail should be a major part of building back better after Covid. 

We are about to “celebrate” 10 years of inaction on the TransPennine Route upgrade. TRU was allocated £589M last July. A letter from the Department for Transport to Halifax and District Rail Action Group (replying to our September letter to Grant Shapps – also attached) says this was to enable “design and development work” on the Manchester-Huddersfield-Leeds-York line. Full electrification (on the back burner since 2017) is still only being considered, and “the most optimal approach” will be determined “by mid-2021”. Huddersfield Civic Society has received a similar letter.  

“Mid-2021” will be the 10th anniversary of the original announcement of TRU – understood then to involve full electrification. Clearly the time for action is overdue. We cannot have further months and years of protracted replanning, assessment of options, lack of decision, and delay. We have already had a decade of that. 

At the same time, next March will be six years since publication of Northern Sparks, the report of the Northern Electrification task force, an all-party group of MPs and regional leaders supported by Network Rail and the DfT, and chaired by Harrogate MP Andrew Jones. 

Northern Sparks recommended to government an initial 5-year plan of 12 routes across the North of England. Top-ranked route on economic, environmental and business criteria was the full Calder Valley Line from West Yorkshire via Brighouse, Bradford and Hebden Bridge to Rochdale, Manchester, Blackburn and Preston.  Calder Valley electrification is a natural follow-on to the Huddersfield-line TRU, and has recently been prioritised in West Yorkshire’s submission to the National Infrastructure Commission ( 

Encouragingly the DfT’s letter to HADRAG (along with an answer given by Grant Shapps at the recent Yorkshire Post Great Northern Conference) suggests that further rail electrification is intended and will be influenced by TDNS. We await the DfT’s full decarbonisation strategy and call for this to give the go ahead to a full rolling programme of railway electrification that will cut costs and deliver future benefits in more efficient, zero-carbon train operation.  

Along with other campaigning groups across the North, the Electric Railway Charter wants to see all MPs, local and regional authorities, business groups, and Transport for the North renewing the call on government, not least on the Treasury, to progress railway electrification.  ·      

It has been shown by the Rail Industry Association (RIA) that a rolling programme could reduce wiring costs by 30% to 50%. Electric trains are modern, high-performance for speed on Pennine routes with frequent stops, and more attractive to passengers in a world where we need to reduce road traffic, improve air quality and create a more sociable transport system that promotes human wellbeing as well as addressing the climate crisis. 

Electric railways are also cheaper to run – more energy efficient, simpler than diesel or hydrogen-powered vehicles, lower maintenance, longer lasting. Rail electrification will pay for itself in the long-term through cutting costs as well as carbon.

So the Treasury needs to look at capital and operating costs holistically. In the 1980s British Rail electrified the East Coast Main Line from Hitchin to Leeds and Edinburgh from its own internal resources. Even if in some respects it was done on the cheap, this was a success showing what could be done.   

Campaign for TDNS!

Bimode TransPennine Express train at Liverpool (pic: AMW) has diesel engines as well as electric supply equipment. For zero-carbon the diesels have to go. Hitachi, the maker of this unit, is promoting an idea to remove the diesel engines and replace them with batteries. So a fully electric train could get through short sections without overhead wires. What do think? See Hitachi’s video here

TDNS, the Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy, published by Network Rail in September, is a detailed, high quality, and revolutionary piece of work[1]. Perhaps the most forward-looking manifesto for positive change since the 1955 Modernisation Plan, TDNS says that the great majority of British railways that are at present diesel-only must be electrified.

That of course includes just about all of the scheme – including our Calder Valley Line – recommended in “Northern Sparks”, the Northern Electrification Task Force report (March 2015)[2], a document that’s seemingly been safely hidden away in some recess of Department of Transport for nearly six years.  Now the task is to persuade the government that a rolling programme needs to start without further delay. HADRAG and the Electric Railway Charter are waiting for a reply to a letter we sent in September. Also awaited is an integrated rail plan for the North. Let’s hope any delay is good news.

TDNS says a few routes could have hydrogen or battery-powered trains. But only a few – mainly less intensively used or more remote. Both batteries and – very markedly – hydrogen are much less efficient ways of delivering traction energy to trains than the electrical grid and overhead line equipment (OLE). Making hydrogen, distributing it to tanks on the trains, and getting the energy out through fuel cells could waste as much as 70% of the original energy. There will be improvements, for example to fuel cells, but multiple conversion processes will always have lower efficiency than direct transmission of electricity.[3]

Calder Valley Line

Remember our “full” Calder Valley Line (Leeds-Hebden Bridge-Manchester and Preston via both Bradford and Brighouse) was given top ranking by NETF on economic, environmental (diesel-replacement) and capacity grounds. TDNS recommends full electrification. Part of the section through East Lancs is categorised as multiple option: batteries might be used Burnley-Blackburn, but as a through strategic route full OLE electrification is recommended.

Surely new or reopened lines should be electrified as default? If Skipton-Colne goes ahead that will join the already wired Airedale line out of Leeds. So with the full Calder Valley we can see two electric routes Leeds-Preston – and benefits beyond the passenger market. Freight is often mentioned in TDNS as a reason for going electric.  Calder Valley plus Huddersfield line (TRU) will be two electric routes Leeds-Manchester. Which all starts to sound more like central Scotland where four electric routes already link Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the decarbonisation plan envisages full wiring all the way from Ayrshire to north of Inverness by 25 years from now.

Look at the maps in TRU for a future largely electric railway across this island. In northern England it’s not just all the urban areas around Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds but routes like Skipton-Carlisle, the Cumbrian Coast, Teesside and Durham.

At the recent on-line Yorkshire Post Great Northern Conference, Grant Shapps enthused about a Tees Valley “hydrogen hub” – but the context was more “buses, trucks and ships” than trains. TDNS recommends OLE wiring for this area – with battery trains to Whitby and Bishop Auckland. Parts could be hydrogen, but maybe only in the interim.

Answering a question, Shapps admitted that hydrogen needs “a lot of power” to make, and said, yes, the government would be electrifying more railways. Dare we hope for an announcement soon?

Railfuture is the national voluntary group campaigning for better services, passenger and freight. The agenda for November’s online meeting of the group’s Yorkshire and North West branches had a short paper about TDNS. The paper matches up the “Northern Sparks” recommendations and TDNS proposals. Read it here:

[1] (full document); (summary).


[3] There is a useful discussion of these efficiencies in the Scotland rail decarbonisation plan. Scotland is ahead of England and plans a zero-carbon railway by 2045.

July update – good news for Huddersfield Line from Mr Shapps. We still need commitment to Northern Sparks

GC Electric 1 cropped2
Launched May 2018 in Halifax, the Electric Railway Charter is a campaigning initiative of four rail user groups on the Calder Valley line, supported by two branches of nationally pressure group Railfuture. We argue for a rolling programme of electrification across the North as part of the imperative for zero-carbon transport. We argue for implementation of the 5-year old task force report Northern Sparks that calls for a 5-year programme covering 12 routes with ours at the top of the list. Our constituent groups are Bradford Rail Users Group, HADRAG (Halifax & District Rail Action Group, Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group, and Oldham and Rochdale-based STORM, supported by Yorkshire and North West Railfuture branches. Charter campaigning is coordinated by Richard Lysons, chair of Friends of Littleborough Stations, and Stephen Waring, chair of HADRAG.


Good news of government go-ahead for TransPennine Route Upgrade. 4-tracking through Mirfield should also benefit Calder Valley.  Meanwhile WYCA’s submission to National Infrastructure Commission calls for Calder Valley electrification and keeps 5-year old task force recommendations alive. But still no clear plan to unlock capacity on Manchester’s Castlefield corridor, needed for better Calder Valley services.

Grant Shapps celebrates his first anniversary as transport secretary this week with a go-ahead for the TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU). We have been waiting five years, but today (23 July 2020) the good news is £589 million “to kickstart” work on Manchester-Huddersfield-Leeds. Reading between the lines, we gather this is still initially the gapped electrification scheme with wiring only – as yet – between Manchester and Stalybridge and Huddersfield-Leeds: “Most of the line will be electrified,” says the statement, “And our ambition is to go further.”  This is good news, a step change in government thinking, and was predicted in a report to West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s transport committee earlier this month.

The promise now is that full electrification, digital signalling, more multi-tracking and more freight capacity are under consideration, under an integrated rail plan expected in December.

Meanwhile it is important for the Calder Valley to note the immediate promise that “the most congested section of the route will be doubled from two to four tracks”. We take it this means the section from Huddersfield to Dewsbury, involving a conflicted-relieving flying junction at Ravensthorpe, a project for which Transport and Works Act approval is now awaited. These works will provide new capacity for more trains long called for by HADRAG, via the Elland-Brighouse corridor as well on the Huddersfield line.

Keep the sparks alive!

The Electric Railway Charter calls for electrification of the full Calder Valley Line (Leeds to Manchester and Preston via both Bradford and Brighouse) as an early follow on to TRU and as recommended to government by the Northern Electrification Task Force more than five years ago.

We are delighted to see Calder Valley Line electrification prioritised in West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s submission to the National Infrastructure commission. WYCA indicates that the March 2015 task force report Northern Sparks is still very much a live document. Remember the task force, an all-party group of MPs working with local authorities and rail industry, recommended a five-year initial rolling programme of 12 routes of which the full CV line achieved top ranking.

Re-announced extras

The 23 July statement by Grant Shapps boasts a total of “over £600 million” investment.  Some of the apparent “extras” have already been announced and include:

  • £10M for design and development of capacity improvements including consideration of different options. Another 5-year old project – we are still waiting for the extra platforms at Manchester Piccadilly that should have enable a Calder Valley-Manchester Airport service a year ago. It is not clear whether the original plan will go ahead or an alternative involving a tunnel from the west to Piccadilly – which might be better but could take years longer to plan and build. As Bradford, Halifax, Calder Valley and Rochdale passengers we need this bottleneck unblocking to permit better services on our line, including a service to Manchester Airport. Update 31 July: At the Transport for the North board meeting on 29 July, Greater Manchester Mayor Burnham asked for clarity on plans. If Network Rail has an alternative to the proposed Man Picc platforms 15 & 16 TfN wants to hear about it. And so do we, the ever-patient travelling public and campaigners! The promise seems to be we’ll all find out in December.
  • £1M for planning a cycling route between Halifax and Bradford through Queensbury former rail tunnel. Very welcome (but again, this is just for planning).

Strategic routes need wires

Finally, just like the TRU Huddersfield line, routes like the Calder Valley are strategic and need full electrification. Travel patterns will change after Covid, but we see public transport being built back as “sociable transport” not just catering for inter/into/intra-city travel but for the whole community in our large, medium and smaller towns. We want rail to be first choice for the broadest range of travel needs. That means a return to frequent services – at least 2 trains per hour on all sections of the line, at least 4/hr on key corridors such as Leeds-Halifax-Hebden Bridge and Todmorden-Manchester. Rochdale-Manchester already, under normal circumstances, has 6/hr. Whilst we do not yet know what the post-Covid normal will be, the climate and environmental crisis will still be there.

We can not go back to congested, polluted roads.

Nor should we go back to sardine-packed trains where people paying peak-rate fares have the worst travel conditions.

And let’s not be distracted false promises. Hydrogen-powered trains waste energy (compared with either overhead electric or batteries) in the inefficiencies of making the hydrogen, distributing it, and then getting the energy back on the train. We don’t deny hydrogen has its uses but not for strategic routes like ours.

The communities on our line need a modern, electric railway. – JSW

Start soon, says Mr Haines. And we agree!

ANDREW Haines, Chief Executive of Network Rail, has said, in a RAIL magazine interview, that his pitch to government on decarbonisation is “start soon and start progressively” (RAIL 904, 6-19 May 2020). We agree! The case is building for a rolling programme of electrification. If rail is to become zero-carbon as part of a wider agenda to stop all transport from polluting the atmosphere and fuelling global heating that can only mean electrification of all strategic routes. Including our Calder Valley line as top scheme of the March 2015 task force report Northern Sparks.

The Calder Valley Line links with electric railways at Leeds and Manchester. Most (we still hope for all) of the Huddersfield route is expected to be electrified as part of the TransPennine Route Upgrade. It makes no sense for our line to be an unelectrified island.

The Network Rail boss is positive, but cautious. By “start progressively” he is saying it is unrealistic to “unlock” too many electrification schemes simultaneously because “We won’t have the capacity, and we’ll end up dropping a few balls and knock the cause back.” Value for money has to be demonstrated, more cost-effective electrification methods will have to be found, but there is confidence that new methods for bridge clearances and other obstacles will deliver “more creditable and palatable costs”.

We can not disagree with that. But what could be better value for money than creating a transport system that stops burning carbon and starts to fight the climate emergency? The emergency that will still be there when we have got through the present pandemic. The Rail Industry Association and others have already set out evidence that a rolling programme will reduce the costs substantially, and that decarbonisation means electrification as the only solution for strategic routes. On 26 March the DfT published its plan for a plan, Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge, and in the preface minister Grant Shapps says “Climate change is the most pressing environmental challenge of our time”. The plan itself is promised for later this year, as we emerge from Covid-19 it could hardly be more timely. Let the promise be kept.

RAIL 904’s 2-page spread with Haines (there’s another 8 pages in issue 905) also covers capacity. Haines says projects should go ahead: “The need… will be there and all this crisis may have done is bought us a few years of time.” London’s Crossrail 2 is mentioned (surprise, surprise), but also the TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU), awaiting Treasury approval and needing to keep momentum. The other big need is of course Manchester, where lack of capacity on the Castlefield route through Oxford Road and Piccadilly is at present preventing through services from the Calder Valley to the south side of the city and to the airport. If we are to have a few years where rail travel is reduce, that could be an opportunity to get on with some of this work.

Momentum means not just getting one project approved but moving on to the next and the next, retaining skilled engineers, building experience, saving costs. The 2015 task force report “Northern Sparks” is still valid. The Electric Railway Charter says it should beget a programme across our sub-nation. As soon as we’ve got TRU done on Huddersfield line, let’s see the teams moving to the Calder Valley, which was (no apology for reminder), the task force’s top-scoring project out of 12 recommended for an initial five-year plan. Andrew Haines clearly believes in caution, but he tells RAIL magazine: “We have to be bolder about demonstrating what electrification can do… not just about decarbonisation of railways it’s part of decarbonisation of the economy, because it makes the railway more attractive. A growth strategy, not just a spend strategy.”

A strategic route that serves communities, our line is an ideal case for a modern railway that will provide a sustainable alternative, encouraging locals to make trains their own, promoting culture, leisure, and sociability, not just for work and the big cities. See also HADRAG’s response to the NIC .

Government needs to kick-start a “rolling programme” of rail electrification, say business, passenger, freight, and community groups

GC Electric 1 cropped2

The Rail Industry Association has written to the Government this week calling for a rolling programme of electrification. Here’s their press release, and their letter. Let’s hope they remember the Northern Sparks report that came out just about 5 years ago from the all-party, professionally supported Northern Electrification Task Force. It may have been sat on by the Department for Transport under three different Secretaries of State, but that report is still valid. It calls for most lines in Northern England to be wired with 12 schemes in an initial 5-year plan. The report ranked schemes on economic, operational and environmental criteria. Top-ranked scheme was the full Calder Valley Line, Leeds to Manchester and Preston via both Bradford and Brighouse. See also the Charter’s new year 2020 update .

Electrification Update New Year 2020

New electric train run by TransPennine Express at Liverpool. It has to be a bimode (with climate-damaging diesel engines) because much of the route across the Pennines to York is not electrified. The Department for Transport are still saying the TransPennine Route Upgrade will include only limited electrification with Stalybridge-Huddersfield and much of Leeds-York left unwired. But, we understand, Network Rail are under instructions to keep planning for the whole route. Timescale is still unclear.  We say let’s just do it, and then get in with the Calder Valley Line in a rolling programme across the North.

TRANSPORT SCOTLAND is now talking about electrifying the lines connecting all seven of Scotland’s cities. Already, Edinburgh and Glasgow are linked by four rail routes, all four of them now electrified, and wires extend to Stirling. In an interview with RAIL magazine Transport Scotland’s director of rail Bill Reeve said “the working assumption” would be electrification to Perth, Dundee, Inverness and Aberdeen. Worth adding here that the largest of these cities, Aberdeen has a population (228,000) only slightly greater than that of Pennine districts such as Rochdale or Calderdale. So why is rail electrification in the North of England lagging?

Back in August the Electric Railway Charter wrote to Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP when he was still fairly new in the job of Secretary of State for Transport. We made the argument for restarting a rolling programme. A reply from the Department for Transport (DfT) felt very much like a standard answer to letters raising similar points. The DfT says policy is “that rail investment decisions are based on assessments of value for money and passenger and freight benefits [with] enhancements based on the needs they are fulfilling, rather the methods of fulfilment.” They are “committed to electrification where it delivers benefits for passengers and value for money”. What about where it offers the best way of rail playing its part in the battle against climate crisis? There was no mention at this point of the climate benefits of decarbonisation, although there was discussion of air quality and introduction of “progressively more stringent EU standards to drive down emissions from new rail engines” with the aim of a 90% reduction in particulates. That’s good for the quality of the air we breathe, but unfortunately even clean hydrocarbon fuelled engines emit carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

The final paragraph says “Our work to improve air quality sits alongside our plans to decarbonise the rail network,” and restates the “ambition to remove all diesel-only trains by 2040”. Note, just “diesel-only”. There is the truism that “since 2010 we have delivered 25 times more route miles of electrification than was delivered between 1997 and 2010”. So, when was that wiring first planned, and where are the plans now for now for the next ten years of electrification of lines such as ours? Serious cost savings are now predicted with a 10-year rolling programme, teams retaining skills moving on to the next project. Finishing the Huddersfield line then moving on to the Calder Valley.

Also in an open letter to Grant Shapps, David Shirres, editor of Rail Engineer magazine showed “how and why electrification is, for almost all rail traffic the only long term decarbonisation option”. His September magazine was themed “achieving zero carbon, leading with “Electrify everything”.

Causes for hope? In October the government launched a “ground-breaking plan to achieve net zero emissions across every single mode of transport”. The plan should be ready for action this year; it surely must have substance and can not be delayed ( During the election campaign Boris Johnson hinted in Derby that he might reinstate the full Midland Main Line wiring project.

There continues to be much interest in hydrogen (H2) but let’s not forget that producing the gas (whether from electrolysis of water or from reforming of methane), transporting it, and then using fuel cells to convert its energy back to electricity is highly inefficient, with well over half the total energy wasted. And making hydrogen from hydrocarbons like methane releases carbon dioxide as a by-product. The H2-enthusiasts’ answer is “CCS”: carbon (dioxide) capture and storage, requiring a whole infrastructure yet to be developed. Hydrogen may have a role particularly in places such as the Tees valley where a supply is available from existing industry, but electric railways are tried and tested technology that we should be expanding now.

Battery technology will continue to develop. A recent report by Norwegian railways recommended batteries plus partial electrification to replace diesels. Norway already has 60% of rail lines electrified, compared with less than 40% in the UK (

Nearer home, Vivarail, the company repurposing former London Underground stock, has developed a battery version of its “D-train” that could work for some currently diesel branch lines. A range of up to 60 miles is predicted and, crucially, a quick charging bank enables a full charge in 10 minutes between trips.

This all helps towards the essential goal of getting rid of diesels. But it certainly does not remove the need for full electrification of strategic routes like our Calder Valley Line.

Recently David Brown, managing director of Northern, told RAIL magazine “We would like to see additional electrification from Manchester Victoria to Stalybridge or Rochdale.” Such a modest proposal should be just the start. 


Charter tells government: time to get on with wiring programme



Electric trains at Leeds. The Electric Railway Charter has asked Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps to instigate a rolling programme of electrification including the Northern Electrification Task Force programme (March 2015) that ranked the Calder Valley Line as top scheme. 


In July the new prime minister Boris Johnson spoke in Manchester and made a commitment to Northern Powerhouse Rail. NPR is centred on a proposed high speed line (let’s call it “HS3”) between Leeds and Manchester, much of it in tunnel, and probably serving just one intermediate station in the city of Bradford. The timescale for NPR remains unclear. It is certainly more than a decade away, possible two decades. If and when it is built it is difficult to see how it will benefit communities in the large towns and smaller communities on the Calder Valley Line. People in those communities – present rail passengers, and also others who would use the train if only the service were better – can not wait for a high speed line in 15 or 20 years time that may by-pass them anyway with trains in a tunnel beneath their feet.

In August, the government announced a review of HS2, the high speed line between London, Birmingham an the North. Could HS2 be cancelled (even though work it the first hase has started)? Could the building costs saved be spent instead on bringing forward the benefits of NPR/HS3 and, more important transforming travel for people in those communities between the big cities?

Meanwhile, we have the climate emergency, continuing and worsening unless the world takes concerted action. Transport (among other sectors) has to decarbonise. And that includes rail. As the Charter said when we launched last year, what’s the point of driving your electric car to the station if your train is still a dirty diesel?

For strategic routes including the Calder Valley Line decarbonisation must mean electrification. Battery trains or hydrogen trains might work for branch lines where the trains run relatively infrequently at relatively low speed but routes like ours with lots of stops and targets to cut journey times need proper, full wiring. That’s what the rail industry and engineering bodies have been saying. And that’s what the Electric Railway Charter says in an open letter sent recently to the new Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps. We can not wait for experiments with hydrogen or other ways of supplying traction energy that have self-evident limitations. We want Mr Shapps to get a rolling programme of wiring on track. Here’s the text of our letter:

Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport,

Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Rd, LONDON, SW1P 4DR

19 August 2019

Dear Secretary of State,

The Electric Railway Charter is a campaign founded last year by four rail user groups on the Calder Valley Line supported by the Yorkshire and North West branches of Railfuture. We seek implementation of the recommendations of the Northern Electrification Task Force (NETF) which reported in March 2015. Our Calder Valley Line was top-ranked scheme in the NETF list of lines required to be electrified.

Our groups strongly welcome the commitments made in the Prime Minister’s speech in Manchester (July) to investment in rail in the North. We welcome the suggestion that there should be a strong local input into decisions and look forward to seeing more detailed proposals in the autumn, but have three concerns:

  • Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), including “HS3”, may be up to two decades in coming to fruition, during which time there will be a continuing urgent need for improvement to existing lines. This must include electrification as the best means of both modernising and decarbonising operation of strategic routes with frequent services.
  • Planning and building “HS3” may divert resources from the need to improve existing routes.
  • When it is eventually realised, the new line with only one stop (Bradford) between Leeds and Manchester may only indirectly benefit users of local stations, unless it is built with intermediate railway junctions in Bradford allowing through running to existing routes.

In pursuit of that urgent need (a) above, we are writing to ask you: to re-start a rolling programme of railway electrification, including the programme recommended by the Northern Electrification Task Force (NETF) in its “Electric Sparks” report (March 2015). The following points are relevant:

  • Rail must play a full role in the commitment to zero-carbon by 2050 with Britain leading the way. Latest climate reports suggest this deadline should if anything be brought forward. We lag on railway electrification with a stop-start approach historically compared with other countries.
  • We have surely moved on since decisions two or more years ago to cancel or limit the scope of various wiring schemes. Reports (referenced at end) from inter alia the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), the Rail Industry Association and RSSB support the view that a 10-year programme of electrification would give major cost reductions. This would be achieved by maintaining and developing skills, and using innovative, smart engineering approaches.
  • Such innovative engineering (for example making it easier to wire under bridges and tunnels) and high-quality project management should also make projects less disruptive.
  • Alternative energy pathways including batteries and sustainable hydrogen (manufactured without releasing net CO2 as by-product) may have application on less heavily used and lower speed branch lines. But strategic routes including the Calder Valley, with frequent services, frequent stops and a need to improve journey times, must have full electrification. We believe this is made clear in the recent reports. The IMechE report on The Future for Hydrogen Trains in the UK made three headline recommendations, No. 1 of which was to reverse the cancellation by UK Government of electrification programmes. We surely do not have time to keep proven electrification on hold pending experiments with “alternative fuels” that have self-evident limitations.
  • A continuing electrification programme would allow existing, surplus serviceable electric trains “cascaded” by new train operators to be used on newly electrified routes.

On economic, business and environmental criteria, the 2015 NETF “Electric Sparks” report ranked the “full” Calder Valley Line (Leeds to both Manchester and Preston) at the top of a list of 12 schemes recommended for an initial 5-year plan. Lack of progress led us to launch the Electric Railway Charter. We believe:

  • Wiring the CVL would logically follow the TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU) on the Huddersfield line. We await full details of TRU but hope that now-feasible cost savings will allow full rather than gapped electrification resulting in a “green”, energy-efficient, high-performance railway that will cut Leeds-Manchester journey times to 40 minutes long before NPR’s 30-minute promise can possibly materialise.
  • Following TRU without pause, Calder Valley electrification (as specified by NETF) would benefit the economies of a large number of major towns and smaller communities along the route through Bradford, Calderdale, Rochdale and East Lancashire.
  • Whilst we look forward to any potential benefits of new high-speed routes as part of NPR in the long term, the urgent need is to continue modernisation of our existing routes and deliver the “Northern Sparks” promise to benefit travellers sooner.

Our groups look forward to receiving your comments, and trust the Government will shortly move forward in commitment to railway electrification.

Yours sincerely,

J Stephen Waring, Chair, Halifax & District Rail Action Group; Electric Railway Charter joint coordinator

with Electric Railway Charter partners:

Richard Lysons, Electric Railway Charter joint coordinator (Littleborough)

Richard Greenwood, Chair, STORM (Support the Oldham-Rochdale-Manchester rail line)

Nina Smith, Chair, Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group

(Hebden Bridge and Todmorden)

James Vasey, Chair, Bradford Rail Users Group

References: . , ,


Charter update March: rail industry could halve wiring costs with rolling programme

UK rail electrification costs could be cut by 33% to 50% with the help of a 10-year rolling programme where engineers move on from scheme to scheme, maintaining expertise and using innovative technology. Strengthening the argument of our February update, this is pretty much what the Electric Railway Charter has argued all along. Now it is backed up with data and evidence of good practice in new a report from the Rail Industry Association (RIA).

The RIA’s Electrification Cost Challenge report cites examples from the UK and internationally. It shows how high costs seen on recent projects, including the Great Western Electrification Programme, can be avoided in the future. It suggests that significant increases in cost on some past projects like Great Western should be a one-off, caused by an unrealistic programme of work, unpreparedness in using novel technologies resulting in poor productivity and a ‘feast and famine’ electrification policy. In other words failure was due to loss of a skill after a long period when little electrification had been done.

Examples of good practice come not just from overseas. Right on our doorstep the Scottish Government has pursued a successful rolling programme of electrification. The Airdrie-Bathgate-Edinburgh scheme was on time and on budget. Some schemes went over budget but overall the trend has been to reduce costs. With a logical network approach the central Scotland programme covers both main lines and branches – from the Edinburgh-Glasgow inter-city routes, to the short Stirling-Alloa branch.

There are four railway routes between Scotland’s first and second cities, when they have finished wiring the Shotts line in a few weeks’ time, all four will be electrified. Meanwhile, Northern England under the rule of the Department for Transport struggles to approve full electrification of a single route between Manchester and Leeds.

But with the RIA report the challenge now is to Network Rail to electrify the complete Manchester-Huddersfield-Leeds-York route within the DfT’s budget (£2.9bn) for a gapped scheme. Taking up the RIA call for a rolling programme, next step could be a Northern rolling programme as the all-party task force recommended in 2015. The task force’s top recommendation was the full Calder Valley Line, and as Charter campaigners we say our line makes complete sense as a network scheme complementing the Huddersfield Line as an equally intensively used route.

The promise of cost reductions through a rolling programme is realistic. It strengthens the case for full electrification rather than gapped schemes that would rely on polluting, climate-damaging energy sources to bridge the gaps.

Coupled with the skills and cost-advantages of a rolling programme, better technology will play a part. Already we can point to UK examples. In Cardiff a difficult bridge over the Great Western Main Line could have cost the electrification project between £10M and £50M in terms of options for rebuilding or track lowering to provide clearance for 25kV wires. Instead the railway engineers used surge arrestors in the electrical supply and an insulated coating on the bridge at a cost of less than £1M.

The RIA cost challenge findings follow a report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers The Future for Hydrogen Trains in the UK. The IMechE makes three front-page recommendations. Recommendations 2 and 3 support development of hydrogen power and its deployment initially in areas where there is a significant hydrogen production industry. But recommendation number 1 is that the UK government rethinks cancellation of electrification schemes, and “moves forward with a more innovative, and long-term approach electrification rolling programme, to create skills and careers, develop supply chains, and work with existing rail networks to manage projects”.

The Electric Railway Charter calls on politicians at all levels to take up the recommendations of these reports and get on with creating a modern and sustainable North of England railway. – JSW

Themes in his blog are explored further by David Shirres in an article Relearning Electrification in the March 2019 issue of Rail Engineer magazine.