Reading through yesterday’s Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), as one does in a moment of more than average boredom, inevitably brings the eye to the area of transport. And what is in store for the railways does not make sense when taken in the round.
In the North West, the previous Government’s commitment to electrification between Liverpool and Manchester, from both those cities to Preston, and from Preston to Blackpool is restated. But upgrades and new trains for London’s Thameslink are still “under consideration”.
But, so what? Well, the two schemes are linked – the electric trains for the North West won’t be new build, but rather will be provided via a stock cascade of the older sets at present running on Thameslink. And, although electrification would be useful to freight operators, the prime user would be local passenger services. No electric trains, no point in putting up the wires.
Elsewhere, commitments to electrify are not restated, but neither are they ruled out. On the Great Western Main Line (GWML) from London to South Wales and the South West, there will be “investment to improve journey reliability”, which suggests that the wires may not be going up between Paddington, Bristol and Cardiff.
Between Sheffield and London – a route which showed a better cost/benefit analysis for wiring than the GWML – there is talk of “line speed improvements”, which also ducks the electrification issue.
The issue of electric working isn’t merely enthusiasts’ vanity: electric trains cost less to run, they’re quieter and cleaner, and their power source is not dependent on one particular fuel. Moreover, the InterCity 125 trains, although they can go on for a few years yet, will not last forever. The GWML is almost totally dependent on the IC125, and Sheffield to London partly so.
That the Blair and Brown administrations also ducked this issue is not disputed. But that decisions need to be made soon, and in a joined up manner, is where we are right now.