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 .


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