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


www.electriccharter.wordpress.com .

https://www.imeche.org/policy-and-press/reports/detail/the-future-for-hydrogen-trains-in-the-uk ,

https://www.riagb.org.uk/RIA/Newsroom/Stories/Electrification_Cost_Challenge_Report.aspx ,




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.


Update Feb’19: No excuses – give us electric trains!

THE Electric Railway Charter is for modern, reliable trains, supporting a healthy

Sign Calderdale’s petition! The neon heart image is from Calderdale Council’s #electricvalley campaign calling for electrification of the Calder Valley Line. The council has launched a petition on Change.org. For more information and a link to support and sign use the hashtag #electricvalley or go straight to Change.org here.

environment, action against climate change, and good growth. A clean, energy efficient high-performance electric railway will encourage modal shift from congested roads in a “green sparks effect”. Wiring costs are predicted to fall significantly, strengthening the case for full rather than gapped electrification of strategic routes, one of which the Calder Valley Line (Leeds to Manchester/Preston via Bradford/Brighouse) was top recommendation of the 2015 task force.

With costs predicted to come down and limited application for alternatives such as hydrogen trains that seem to be in vogue, we have updated our Arguments for Electrification paper. In brief, we say:

  • the aim must be a zero-carbon railway with fully electric trains.

Ideal for our line

Electric train performance is ideal for routes such the Calder Valley over Pennine gradients with frequent station stops:

  • Fast acceleration and hill-climbing are major advantages of electric traction
  • Modern electric trains are able to recover energy through electric braking making them even more “eco-friendly”.

Rolling programme, gaining skills, cutting costs

We call for a rolling programme of electrification across the North, based on the Northern Electrification Task Force (NETF) recommendations in the March 2015 Northern Sparks report. Based on business, economic and environmental criteria NETF ranked the Calder Valley Line (Leeds-Bradford/Brighouse-Hebden Bridge-Manchester/Preston) as top scheme heading list of 12 lines in initial 5-year programme).

A rolling programme with effective project management will reduce costs and disruption as skills are regained and improved. New technology, innovative methods can help solve problems. Overhead line equipment (OLE) does not have to be over-engineered. It is true that recent electrification schemes suffered cost and time over-runs. Mistakes were made because a period of little or no new electrification had allowed established concentrations of engineering skill to dissipate. The Great Western electrification cost about £3.5M per single-track kilometre (s-t km). In comparison recent North West England and Scottish schemes were about £1.25M to £2.0M/s-t km, and the European norm is about €1M (£800,000)/s-t km. Modern Railways magazine columnist Roger Ford discusses these figures from the McNaughton review of electrification cost (commissioned last year by the DfT). There is strong optimism that electrification costs can be brought down through a rolling programme supported by a national centre of engineering excellence giving a specific cost of significantly under £1M per track kilometre. (FORD, Roger, in MODERN RAILWAYS, March 2019: INFORMED SOURCES e-Preview: http://live.ezezine.com/ezine/archives/759/759-2019. Good planning with teams moving on from project to project will also reduce disruption during the work to put up the wires.

Sustainability: zero-emissions, zero-carbon railway – the green “sparks effect”!

The Autumn 2018 special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said global society can tackle climate change, but needs to take significant action in the next 10 years. Earlier this year a Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg put powerful grown-ups to shame with her 32-hour train trip to Davos to address the great and good of global economics. Let us all be inspired. Environmentalism must take hold and those of us in the most developed countries must surely take the lead. Rail is already a relatively low-pollution, low-carbon transport mode but must keep up as road transport decarbonises. We want to attract people onto train travel and off congested, air-damaging roads. As electricity generation decarbonises so will electric railways.

Travellers will increasingly make green consumer choices. Modern trains that protect the health of people and planet are simply more attractive. This is the green “sparks effect”. And it only really works with electric trains.

So the Charter rejects the idea of continuing use of diesels or other trains using carbon-derived energy to bridge gaps left by incomplete electrification of strategic routes such as the Calder Valley Line. “Diesels” include diesel bimodes that still pollute and are even less efficient, carrying the mass of both diesel engines and electric collection equipment and transformers.  We do not want trains that still damage air quality in stations. Polluted stations like Manchester Victoria need to be made fume-free.

And we should beware false prophets preaching excuses for not getting on with electrification. Alternatives such as hydrogen trains (carrying hydrogen fuel as compressed gas which is used to generate electricity through fuel cells or through combustion and turbine) may have some application on rail. But the latest thinking is that this is likely to be limited to relatively lightly used branch lines. In a recent report The Future for Hydrogen Trains in the UK, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) warns against hydrogen being seen as a substitute for electrification. Whilst supporting hydrogen development, the IMechE’s first recommendation reads: “That the UK Government rethinks the cancellation of electrification programmes and moves forward with a more innovative, and long-term approach, electrification rolling programme, that can create skills and careers, develop supply chains, and work with existing rail networks to manage projects.”.

We should beware also claims of “zero emissions” omitting “at point of use”. Hydrogen as currently produced is effectively little lower carbon than diesel. And storing energy from electricity in hydrogen (by electrolysing water) and then returning the energy to electricity through fuels has a lower “round-trip efficiency” than storage in batteries.

TRU challenge

Network Rail’s “CP6” control period starts this April. That means the TransPennine Route Upgrade is due to start on  the Huddersfield Line. Information about the scope of TRU has continued to emerge. It seems there will be some serious capacity work on the Huddersfield-Mirfield corridor that will also help Calderdale services through Brighouse. Manchester to York will be electrified but the DfT plan and budget is for this to be significantly gapped. Our understanding is that the intention is to leave Guide Bridge/Stalybridge to Huddersfield unwired and much of Leeds- York. However, with costs coming down it seems Network Rail has been set a challenge to see if it can electrify the complete TP route within the DfT’s partial electrification budget. This would of course strengthen the case for a wider programme following TRU. Our strategic Calder Valley Line should be next on the list –  the complete route.  — JSW… 



Hydrogen dream should be treated with caution

Government and train builders seem keen to bring hydrogen trains to rail. The gas is stored compressed in tanks on the train. To power traction motors, the hydrogen is combined with oxygen from the air in fuel cells. Or the hydrogen can be burnt to drive a turbo-generator.  In either case the exhaust is steam or water. (If you like chemistry the equation is 2H2 + O­2 = 2H2O.)InnoTrans_2016_–_Alstom_iLint_with_Fuel_Cell_Batteries_(29782914176)

So… there’s no carbon in hydrogen… so hydrogen trains have got to be zero-carbon, right?

WRONG! Most current hydrogen production is by steam-reforming of methane. Natural gas (CH4) is reacted catalytically with water to give, over a two-stage process, the hydrogen you want, and – you guessed it! – carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that you definitely don’t want. Hydrogen can be zero-carbon, if generated from renewably-sourced electricity by electrolysis of water. Like electric railways electrolytic hydrogen will approach zero-carbon as electricity production is decarbonised. Other possibilities still to be proven commercially include carbon-neutral biochemical methods. Thermochemical production of hydrogen from water might become commercially feasible. But, again, where the energy comes from must be a concern. So any claim that hydrogen trains are zero-emission that should be challenged. Other questions or concerns include:

  • Safety. The high flammability of hydrogen rarely gets a mention. Is this really not a worry? Should we not be asking questions about trains with large tanks filled with compressed, easily ignited gas? What if there were a leak in a tunnel or some of our more enclosed stations? Hydrogen has a good safety record in industrial use but surely we are right to ask for reassurance about the use of the “Hindenburg gas” to fuel trains?
  • Distribution of hydrogen to fuelling points. (Or could hydrogen be generated locally at train depots using water and renewable electricity?)
  • Storage on trains and train performance. The world’s first hydrogen train, the Alstom Coradia iLint, in service in Germany, has hydrogen tanks on the roof. Alstom’s proposed “Breeze” prototype for the UK takes a former electric train, and reduces it from 4 carriages to 3 with a third of one carriage used for the large fuel tanks that don’t sit so easily on the roof within the UK loading gauge. Like the iLint, the trains will have batteries enabling energy recovery from braking. Maximum speed 140km/hr (87mph) will be less than the 100mph capability of the 321 as an electric – but yes, more than adequate for minor branches.
  • Energy efficiency of H2 storage compared with batteries. It seems the Oxenholme-Windermere “Lakes Line” will get battery-powered trains in the early 2020s. Battery storage is notably more energy-efficient than using electricity to produce hydrogen, storing it in tanks, and then getting the electricity back using fuel cells. Batteries are heavy, but battery technology will move ahead rapidly driven by demand from renewables development and (ironically) electrified road vehicles. Battery bi-modes on the Lakes Line could charge during layovers at Oxenholme on the West Coast Main Line and in service on trips to/from Manchester. This would reduce the required battery capacity. Of course, Lakes Line electrification might have been completed by now, had it not been cancelled.

More in our updated Arguments for Electrification paper (Feb’2019). Hydrogen trains may have a future on some routes, perhaps relatively lightly used branches remote from electrification; it is right to go ahead with trials. But there are a lot of unknowns. Key strategic routes such as the Calder Valley Line need full electrification and the unproven promise of hydrogen is no excuse for not getting on with the job. – JSW


From TP upgrade to rolling programme: The Charter writes to Mr Grayling

We still do not know quite what the scope of the Trans Pennine route upgrade (TRU) on the line through Huddersfield is to be. The Government has yet to announce its final decision on options. But work is supposed to start in a few months time, so hopefully we are going to be told soon. The North of England needs a full job doing with electrification right through from York to Manchester, linking the East Coast Main Line with the already wired Manchester and Liverpool railway. The upgrade should also include extra tracks – reinstating 4-track sections that were removed decades ago – to increase capacity. We hope this will include 4-tracking between Huddersfield and Mirfield/Ravensthorpe. Those extra tracks will be vital if the Calder Valley service via Brighouse towards both Leeds and Huddersfield is to be improved. The physical capacity to be gained by additional tracks can not be replicated in “virtual” form by digital signalling.

What’s missing from this scene? Northern diesel train. City skyline as backdrop. What’s the cantilever structure that doesn’t seem to be doing anything? Evidence of unfinished electrification scheme. This is a bright winter’s day at Manchester Victoria, pleasantly cold and fresh outside but in more enclosed parts of this station the atmosphere is foul with diesel emissions. 


Recent media reports suggest Government may be about to limit the scope of TRU. It is said that maybe only about two thirds of the route from York/Leeds through Huddersfield may be electrified. The section from Huddersfield to Stalybridge could be left unwired. But that section, crossing the Pennines with gradients requiring high performance to maintain good timings, could be the very section that would benefit most from modern electric traction. Bi-mode electro-diesel trains carrying extra weight of engines are unlikely ever to match the acceleration and hill-climbing of pure electrics, and they will continue to emit pollutants that damage local air quality and add to global warming. We write as the COP24 climate change conference deliberates in  Poland.

The Electric Railway Charter calls for implementation of the rolling programme of rail electrification that was recommended nearly 4 years ago by the Northern Electrification Task Force. Top-ranked scheme was the Calder Valley Line and the Charter says this line would follow on naturally after the Huddersfield Line TRU.

Charter campaigners have written to Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for transport. We politely ask him to approve the TRU with full electrification and capacity benefits, and commit to a rolling programme across the North. Read our letter HERE.

The Charter, as we keep saying, is not dogmatic about electrifying every single metre or even kilometre of route. Gaps through tunnels and other structures that are a challenge to electrify can be bridged by trains using modest amounts of electrical battery storage. This is actually being planned for the South Wales “Valleys” lines. It is more efficient in energy terms – and better economics – than wasteful diesel bi-mode trains that have to use more energy to accelerate more mass. As for alternative fuels such as hydrogen, again this is a less efficient way of storing and transferring energy than pure electric or electric plus batteries.

Meanwhile new technology will make installation of the high voltage overhead line equipment easier. Engineers Mott MacDonald have come up with a new design of support for the wires, using a composite wood-based material that combines required electrical insulation and structural functions (https://www.mottmac.com/releases/mott-macdonald-and-moxon-unveil-prototype-for-innovative-integrated-overhead-line-structure).

And on the Great Western Main Line, the difficult Cardiff Intersection Bridge has actually been treated with an insulating coating so it doesn’t have to be rebuilt or the track lowered – an award-winning project. (https://glscoatings.co.uk/pdfs/GLS100R_Rail_Brochure.pdf)

We say to Mr Grayling, diesels and diesel-bimode trains are just bad business. -JSW

Calderdale signs up, as TRU proposals emerge

Bromsgrove electric zeke

Updating our recent post, we record with thanks the decision of Calderdale Council to sign up in support of the Electric Railway Charter. Following an earlier report agreed at council cabinet, Calderdale will now campaign to make electrification of our line top priority – as it was in the “Northern Sparks” all-party task force report of three years ago. The full resolution passed at full council on 19 September copied below.

TRU latest:

Meanwhile news has come out (a deliberate leak?) on the TransPennine (Huddersfield line) Route Upgrade, which looks to be proposing (as expected) “some” electrification. You might think this would include the section through the hills between Huddersfield and Stalybridge where the superior performance of electric traction would help to cut journey times. You might also expect the easy section from Leeds to York to be included, filling a short gap in existing wiring between Leeds Neville Hill depot and the East Coast Main Line at Colton Junction. But no, all that seemed to be mentioned in the news that came out was Leeds-Huddersfield, and Stalybridge-Manchester (which latter should actually have been finished by now as part if the North West scheme).

It sounds like there will be extra capacity, involving reinstatement of four tracks along the Huddersfield-Mirfield corridor. Campaigning rail user groups in the Calder Valley hope this will enable more services through Elland and Brighouse.

Sadly the news seemed to emphasise the disruption that would be caused whilst the work is carried out with long blockades of sections of the Manchester-Huddersfield-Leeds route. We hope this is not part of a softening-up process to prepare us for a more negative announcement. Smart ways of working should be adopted with work being done at night and at less busy times. Remember that in the 1980s British Rail electrified the East Coast Main Line from Hitchin to Edinburgh, 360 miles, with considerably less fuss than is currently being made about a fraction of that distance in the Pennines.

Our call:

The Electric Railway Charter calls for a rolling programme of electrification across the north, starting with the Calder Valley as a natural follow-on to the Huddersfield Line. We believe a smarter approach can minimise the cost, time taken and disruption during construction. The message should be that we need a well-planned programme to develop a modern, environmentally sustainably railway that offers high capacity and high performance with traction that aims for zero-carbon, zero-emissions.

Text of Calderdale Council resolution follows:


This Council notes that:

·       Thousands of people commute in and out of Calderdale each week making good transport links vital to our local economy and those of the towns and cities along the route of the Calder Valley Line;

·       in 2015 the government-appointed Northern Rail Electrification Task Force identified the Calder Valley line as the  highest priority for electrification, but that despite this it appears there are no  current plans for the electrification of our rail line;

·       the UK railways lag far behind other countries in terms of electrification with only 40% of our lines electrified compared to 56% in Germany and 73% in the Netherlands;

·       the failure of Northern Rail to implement the 2018 time table changes cost the economy in the north £38 million;

·       in the four weeks commencing 30 July 2018 113 services on the Calder Valley line were cancelled and 767 services were over three or more minutes late;

·       for every £10 spent on rail in the south of England there is only £1 spent in the north;

·       Cabinet has resolved that Calderdale shall be a signatory of the the “Electric Railway Charter” – a campaign of rail users on the Calder Valley line calling for the line to be electrified.

This Council believes that:

Electrification would make the line more efficient, allowing faster acceleration and deceleration and decreasing the required space between trains, enabling additional services to run on the line and meet the growing demand for high quality transport between Manchester, Calderdale, Bradford and Leeds;

whilst current planned investments are welcome and overdue, electrification remains the best long-term option for securing a reliable service, with the Manchester to Bradford journey time being reduced to under an hour for the first time;

with new technology such as longer life lithium batteries trains can now operate on lines like the Calder Valley line which would have previously been challenging owing to the number of tunnels on the line;

better train services on the Calder Valley line would vastly improve the lives of the 2.7 million who commute between Leeds, Manchester and Bradford.  A more reliable rail system would support local economies and take pressure off the road network.  Electric trains emit up to 35% less CO2 in stations and are across their routes, less polluting that older diesel units.

This Council therefore:

i.      Recognises the longstanding commitment of Halifax and District Rail Action Group and other northern transport organisations to the campaign for electrification of the Calder Valley Line;

ii.     Welcomes and endorses the decision of Cabinet on 3rd September 2018 to endorse the ‘Electric Railway Charter 2018”;

iii.    Requests that the Leader calls on the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Transport for the North to continue to give a high priority to supporting the case for electrification of the Calder Valley line; and

iv.   Requested that the Leader urges the MPs for Halifax and the Calder Valley to take all possible steps to support this campaign, including lobbying the Secretary of State for Transport for a clear commitment to an ambitious timetable for delivering the electrification of this vital route.

Electric Railway Charter update September 2018 – Calderdale takes up campaign. Smart electrification for our line?

THE campaign for railway electrification has been moving ahead since we launched the Electric Railway Charter in Halifax in May 2018. 

Northern railway terminal electrified nearly 60 years ago. But most of the trains in this picture are still diesels because most lines in the North are not electrified. The Electric Railway Charter aims for a railway sustainable in terms of the local and global environment, physical resources and efficient, economic operation that will be an attractive alternative to future road transport, promoting good growth; and for a rolling programme of electrification across the North, based on recommendations of the “Northern Sparks” task force report to Government (March 2015), with the Calder Valley Line as top-ranked scheme.

This blog brings the good news that Calderdale Council’s cabinet has agreed to lobby Government, MPs and Network Rail in an effort to bring forward electrification of the Calder Valley Line. This is a significant boost to our campaign. Benefits of electric railways are highlighted in the Calderdale report . As we argue in the Charter, these include:

  • Better performance by electric trains leading to improved journey times and increased services
  • Reduced wear and tear on track making the service cheaper to run [along with other factors such as lower capital and running costs of electric trains]
  • Environmental gains – working towards slashing CO2 emissions and air pollution. As the Charter says, as electricity generation moves towards zero carbon, so will electric transport.
  • A more attractive service – recognised “sparks effect” of passengers increasing after electrification
  • Consistency of operation with other regional electrified routes
  • The opportunity to reduce costs of construction and disruption by means of “smart” electrification (see below).

The Calderdale report recommends the council working with West Yorkshire Combined Authority and other local authorities along the line. And it recommends the Council become a signatory of the Electric Railway Charter, closely aligned as the report is with Charter aims and arguments.

So we are on our way. Backing Calderdale’s approach, the Charter founders will be contacting members of other local authorities along the line through Bradford, Rochdale and into Manchester and East Lancashire. Remember the March 2015 task force report Northern Sparks recommended the “full” Calder Valley Line as top scheme – “full” meaning the routes from Leeds to both Manchester and Preston via both Bradford and Brighouse through Calderdale, Rochdale and East Lancs.

At our May launch event in Halifax we were delighted to have the support of Halifax MP Holly Lynch. Now we are asking every MP along the line to sign up as a Charter supporter. 

We have also been spreading the word with Charter appearances at a TravelWatch North-West conference in Blackpool, and then at Railfuture’s summer conference in Carlisle where we gave a mini-workshop on the electrification arguments.

TRU hopes

Meanwhile, the government is, we understand, about to invite Transport for the North to express its views on options put forward by Network Rail for the TransPennine Route Upgrade (TRU). To be clear, that means the Huddersfield Line between York, Leeds and Manchester, originally meant to be a full electrification scheme. With cancellation of other electrification schemes a year ago, and TransPennine Express getting new diesel and diesel-bimode trains for the route, that seemed to be in doubt. But it has now been at least hinted by the Secretary of State that TRU will include at least some electrification. This could just mean the “easy” sections Leeds to York and Selby, but there is a clear logic in also wiring the central Pennine section Leeds-Huddersfield-Manchester where gradients could make it difficult for the heavy bimode trains in diesel power to keep to existing timings, let alone achieve the performance possible with pure electric traction.

  • The Electric Railway Charter calls for wiring of the Calder Valley Line through Bradford, Calderdale, Rochdale and East Lancashire as a natural follow-on to the TRU via Huddersfield.

Smart wiring in the (Welsh) Valleys and smart buses in Harrogate set examples!

Main line electrification from Cardiff to Swansea was one of the schemes cancelled last year, but it’s a different story on the neighbouring Cardiff Valleys lines, where 107km of track will be wired under the new Transport for Wales rail franchise to be developed and operated by Keolis-Amey. Electrification used to mean rebuilding bridges and lowering tracks through tunnels to provide clearance for the 25kV overhead wires. But the proposal in the Valleys is to avoid the cost and disruption of major civils work at 55 locations by having permanently earthed (“neutral”) sections where trains will switch for a short distance to battery power. Batteries will also be used on the final 15 km of the valley line to Rhymney. Battery charging will take place during normal running on live sections. It’s simple really!

This type of smart electrification could be ideal for our own Calder Valley Line where we have our fair share of tunnels and bridges. Trains with a modest amount of battery storage could eliminate the need for inefficient diesel bimode trains.

One of our Charter arguments is that rail transport must keep up with moves to clean up road transport with low or zero emission vehicles. In Harrogate, bus company TransDev is about to start operating electric buses. Batteries will be charged overnight and topped-up in layovers of just a few minutes between trips.

  • There is no doubt that electric transport is the future. The Calder Valley Line and other train routes across the North must be part of the revolution.

The arguments for electrification remain clear. Here’s a concise reminder:

  • Economic and business casecompared with diesels, electric trains are cheaper to build, more reliable requiring less maintenance, cheaper to operate and longer-lasting. Lighter weight means more passengers can be carried, acceleration is better and journey times can be shorter even with relatively frequent stops. The passenger experience is improved in terms of cleanliness, air quality and noise levels both in stations and on trains (particularly in comparison with diesel/bi-mode units that have under-floor engines). The “sparks effect” means electrification invariably increases demand for travel on the line, promoting good growth.
  • Environment and resources – to improve air quality, reduce noise, combat climate change and reduce wastage of resources, objectives that can only ever be partially achieved with diesel traction. Even with non-renewable electricity generation, electric trains have 20-35% lower carbon emissions than diesel, an advantage that is already being exceeded with the current renewables mix. As electricity generation moves towards zero-carbon, so will electric transport. The move towards zero-emission, zero carbon road transport by mid-century must be matched by a commitment to a zero-carbon, zero-emission railway over a similar or shorter timescale. We want to see greater use of rail, and so rail’s environmental advantage must be maintained.
  • Consideration of alternatives – so-called “bimode” trains carrying both diesel and electric traction equipment are heavier, more complex and materials-hungry, less energy-efficient and more expensive to procure and operate than pure electrics (or, indeed, pure diesels). Reliability is unproven and performance unlikely to match that of pure electrics. Diesel bimodes commit the railway for a generation to polluting technology. Prospects for hydrogen as a fuel on rail may turn out to be limited. On sections of discontinuous electrification where wiring is difficult, the gaps may be bridged by using electric trains with moderate battery or other on-board energy storage.

On a global basis, if we are serious about tackling climate change, as well as improving air quality, use of inherently “dirty” diesels and other fossil-fuel dependent prime movers must end. – JSW

Links: Our Arguments for electrification document.

www.railwayelectrification.org – industry-based campaign mounted by engineers – they gave an excellent factsheet;

www.railengineer.uk/2018/06/04/getting-electrification-right/ on rail industry working to reduce costs;

and our blog for Campaign for Better Transport:  http://bettertransport.org.uk/blog/rail/electric-railway-charter .