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Thursday 23 July 2009

Message in the Wires

For all in the industry, and all the others who care about the railways, it had been widely trailed, but was welcome nevertheless: Andrew Adonis has announced a programme of electrification. It might not be the largest part of the network, but right now is as good as could be expected. There has been very little in this area since the Major administration pushed through its sell-offs, and that’s more than a decade ago: well, better late than never.

Time was when electrification was put forward as the next step after the steam railway: in the 1950s, the commuter line into Southend’s Victoria station went directly from steam to electric. Unfortunately, successive Governments, and the railway itself, have failed to agree the way forward and then commit to it. So now we’re a long way behind much of mainland Europe. Some of the relevant numbers are in the Beeb and Guardian reports.

Why this move at this time? Well, the upcoming General Election may just be focusing minds within the Government, but there has also been a commitment shown behind the scenes that has been previously lacking. Adonis is one of those thus committed: he’s now convinced his colleagues that a scheme that effectively pays for itself over the lifetime of the next generation of trains is a no-brainer. Also, urging action from the sidelines has been one man whose commitment is at least the equal of Adonis’: step forward the technical editor of Modern Railways magazine, Roger Ford.

Ford, aka Captain Deltic, has been in and around the rail industry for around half a century. His restatement of the case for electrification, especially following the recent oil price shock, has meant that Adonis needed only to push firmly at an ever opening door.

So what will we get? London to Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea, Newbury and Oxford for starters, plus some infill between Manchester and Liverpool, with London to Sheffield on the back burner. Faster, quieter and cleaner journeys. And the other parties’ response?

The Lib Dems, being presently free of budgetary responsibility, say they’d have gone further, but are happy to get the commitment. The Tories, through shadow transport speaker Teresa Villiers, seem not to get it: they’re whingeing about the cost, despite an amount of 1.1 billion over four years – which will at least pay for itself later – not being economy breaking stuff.

And those dismissing Villiers’ carping should consider this snippet from the New Statesman yesterday: Crossrail, on which Young Dave seems less than keen, is tied in with the London to Bristol and Cardiff scheme.

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