Electric Railway Charter launched

train railway miniature transport

How long before we see the like of this German electric train on our line? We are four campaigning groups spread along the Calder Valley railway: STORM (Support the Oldham-Rochdale-Manchester rail line), HADRAG (Halifax & District Rail Action Group), Upper Calder Valley Renaissance Sustainable Transport Group and Bradford Rail Users’ Group. We launched the Electric Railway Charter in Halifax in May 2018 supported by North West and Yorkshire branches of Railfuture.

We want to engage a broad spectrum of business, environmental, local, civic and political groups in support of railway electrification across the North of England. 

The “Northern Sparks” task force report of March 2015 recommended 12 schemes for an initial 5-year programme. The Calder Valley Line (Leeds to both Manchester and Preston via Bradford and via Brighouse) was given top ranking on operational, economic and environmental considerations. We are frustrated at lack of progress, and even more so since July 2017 when South Wales, Midland Main Line and Windermere electrification schemes were cancelled, and doubt was cast over the TransPennine Route Upgrade.

If your organisation would like to sign up in support of the Electric Railway Charter please use the contact form on this website to get in touch.  But first read on – and see also our guest blog on Campaign for Better Transport’s website.

The Northern Electrification Task Force that reported three years ago was an all-party group of MPs and regional representatives backed by professional support and research from Network Rail, Rail North and the Department for Transport. The final recommendations in Northern Sparks were made to the then Secretary of State for Transport, Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP. The report identified 32 lines and said ALL needing electrifying. The schemes were given weighted scores on economic benefits (50%), impact on services, costs and environment (20%), and on capacity and quality (rolling stock) (30%). The top 12 were recommended for electrification in an initial 5-year programme and the “full” Calder Valley Line came top with a score of 84 (out of 100).

We believe our campaign could be in step with a fightback from within the rail industry promoting the benefits and working to reduce the capital costs. A group of electrification engineers have launched the Campaign to Electrify Britain’s Railway  and produced and excellent factsheet .  Our own support document Arguments for Electrification can be found here.

With a rolling programme, costs of wiring are expected to come down, something on which the Rail Industry Association is working as discussed in a recent article in Rail Engineer.  Those capital costs should of course be recouped through future operational savings.

We believe that electrification of the Calder Valley Line would follow on naturally from the TransPennine Route Upgrade that is (at the latest announcement) due to start on the Huddersfield line in Spring 2018. We do not yet know how much if any electrification will be included in TRU; options are believed to be in transport secretary Chris Grayling MP’s in-tray.

Learning from recent mistakes – for example on the Great Western scheme – where work started before planning was completed, a rolling programme of wiring could have dedicated teams moving on from project to project, building expertise, and planning and managing each project effectively to minimise disruption. The Charter is not dogmatic about wiring every kilometre of track. Gaps in difficult sections (for example where there are long lengths if tunnel) could be bridged using modern trains with on-board energy storage.

But diesel bimodes, it is absolutely clear, are significantly less energy efficient (and more costly to buy) than either pure electrics or pure diesels. And they threaten to saddle the railway with polluting fossil-fuel technology for another generation. The aim should be a zero-emission, zero-carbon transport system in which rail plays an increasing role. Here’s a summary of the arguments:

The arguments for electrification remain clear and enduring:

  • Economic and business case – compared 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 20-30% 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 – 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. 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 energy-storage. But the use of inherently “dirty” diesels and other fossil-derived sources must end.  




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