A slice of PR spin that would not have been out of place emanating from the Ministry of Truth was sneaked out today by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling. This told of all the wonderful new developments which would be taking place on the national rail network. Except what it actually told was that many of the developments that had been promised for many years would no longer be taking place. It was, mostly, an excuse note.
Hang on lads, I've got a great idea
Several electrification schemes had been on the drawing board; some were actually in progress - until today. In particular, Grayling’s good news included the curtailment for the foreseeable future of schemes to electrify from Cardiff to Swansea, Kettering to Sheffield via both Derby and Nottingham, and even Oxenholme to Windermere in the Lake District.
So what happens when the shiny new electric trains from London arrive at Cardiff, or, more to the point, pass Kettering at a steady 110mph? Ah, but all will not be lost, as the great Grayling tells “New bi-mode train technology offers seamless transfer from diesel power to electric that is undetectable to passengers”. The sound of jaws hitting the deck will be audible anywhere anyone knows one end of the rail industry from the other.
There is nothing “seamless” about bi-mode technology. Yes, the train keeps moving, but on approaching the end of the wires, the diesel engines have to be fired up. The amount of power they can deliver is less than the energy that can be drawn down from the overhead wires, so the train will not accelerate as rapidly. It may slow noticeably on adverse gradients. The passengers will know there is an engine at work under the floor.
But what is worst is that this technology is a less reliable cop-out. Diesel technology is always going to be less reliable than straight electric - there are more moving parts to potentially go wrong. And the trains make less efficient use of the electrified railway, because they weigh more (the dead weight of the diesel engines and fuel tanks) and therefore draw more current. This, too, impacts on performance.
You only get electric train performance and economies ... from electric trains
For those travelling to Windermere, there is a yet greater cop-out: “The industry is also developing alternative fuel trains, using battery and hydrogen power”. The spurious concept invented by Roger Ford, technical editor of Modern Railways magazine, of the “Bionic Duckweed” powered train, comes readily to mind.
When Grayling eagerly tells “we will only electrify lines where it delivers a genuine benefit to passengers … we can improve journeys … sooner than expected … instead of carrying out disruptive electrification works along the whole of these routes”, he is talking the most disingenuous claptrap. From Oxenholme to Windermere, for instance, there would be little disruption, and the electrification could be fed from the West Coast Main Line supply at Oxenholme. Instead, there is the promise of Bionic Duckweed. Or maybe batteries.
There is a good reason all other European Railways are electrifying, and using bi-mode trains as nothing more than a stop-gap, if at all - there is no substitute for electric working when it comes to clean, energy-efficient, comfortable and above all faster and less expensive trains. We pay less money by not electrifying, we pay more in energy costs, maintenance, and other downtime. This announcement is the ultimate false economy.
But it’s the ultimate challenge for the PR wonks, so that’s all right, then.
The problem with the Welsh bit is that the Welsh aren't exactly helping. The project to electrify the Cardiff Valley Lines as part of the South Wales Metro scheme, which was seperate but clearly needed to be coordinated with the mainline scheme, was being talked down by Welsh Government officials months ago. First they suggested tram voltages but they are also getting into Bionic Duckweed. So now it's a bit awkward for them to argue against Grayling. Down at the Bay it isn't important to talk with experience, any guff will do as long as you can do it in southern-Welsh (the north-south divide isn't just an English thing). And they will control the new Welsh rail concession (which will replace Arriva Trains Wales next year) with no plans for electric trains. So Cardiff-Swansea would see just one electric London train per hour/direction at best. The big question should be whether it would be better to cut the service at Cardiff and use all electric trains. Do the passenger numbers for West Wales to Swindon/Reading/London justify the expense and hassle of bi-mode?
My biggest problem with Grayling is that he has put his name to the spin. Network Rail's monumental mismanagement of the scheme was well known long before he became Minister. He could have saved both face and the money by announcing that the plan was curtailed because so much money had been wasted - and then sack those who were to blame both at the DfT and NR. It would have been difficult to argue against that.
tells “we will only electrify lines where it delivers a genuine benefit to passengers … we can improve journeys … sooner than expected … instead of carrying out disruptive electrification works along the whole of these routes"
So we can expect diesel or even steam trains on HS2?
Odd, isn't it, how money suddenly becomes reducible once transport "issues" arise outside the M25 ghetto.
Yet once inside the ghetto huge amounts can be found for, for instance, the cross rail scheme.
Even when something IS mooted - such as HS2 - it becomes "controversial".
Yes, very odd.
Talking of the M25 ghetto Grayling announced yesterday that, for the first time in the dispute on Southern over guards, he is going to personally negotiate with the unions. (Up until now the fiction has been maintained that this is a Southern/Unions matter).
This follows reports in The Telegraph that the loss of some south coast Tory constituencies in the last election were caused by the unending disruption of this rail dispute.
So it looks as though there is a chance that government money is going to be spent on guards to save constituencies. The fact that there has been no mention of stopping the Trans Pennine/Northern Powerhouse electrification suggests similar reasoning may be at work up there.
Grayling is entirely consistent.
He was born in London and has never lived and worked outside the M25 ghetto.
Therefore he knows absolutely fuck all about the rest of the country. Nor does he have the slightest interest in anything outside his tiny world view.
From reports overnight looks as though the Tories have cancelled Transpennine electrification as well. So I guess they've politically given up on the North.
Seige mentality in the SE.
I broadly agree but to dismiss hydrogen cell technology as "bubonic duckweed" seems to be a bit short sighted: https://www.railengineer.uk/2017/03/22/fuel-cell-train-developments/
Just noticed predictive texting converted "bionic" to "bubonic". Maybe technology is not to be relied on!
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