Posted 2nd May 2018 | 15 Comments

Electrification ‘a waste of money’–Minister

FULL scale electrification on the National Rail network would be a ‘waste of money’, the rail minister Jo Johnson has told MPs.

He was giving evidence to the Commons Transport Select Committee on 1 May in the wake of a report from the National Audit Office which revealed that the main reason for cancelling three electrification schemes last year was to save money, rather than to ‘avoid disruption’, as had been claimed.

MPs suggested that electric trains are the most effective way to cut pollution and increase reliability, but Mr Johnson did not agree, saying: “Our view as a government is that full electrification of our rail network is highly unlikely to be the best value-for-money way of achieving the passenger benefits and the environmental benefits that we’re seeking to achieve.”

Instead, official attention is turning to alternative forms of traction to eventually replace diesel power, such as fuel cells and batteries.

However, some electrification schemes are continuing, such as on the routes to Alloa in Scotland and Corby in Northamptonshire, and there are still plans to extend Great Western electrification to Bristol Temple Meads and Oxford by 2024.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Ian Slater, Leominster

    What garbage.
    If they want to balance the books, they could scrap ridiculous road schemes, such as the A303 "improvement" which will cause irreparable damage to the historic ancient landscape around Stonehenge to save 4 minutes off the road journey, or the "Lower Thames Crossing" which is an enormous motorway-style project to promote the use of road vehicles between East Anglia and Kent.
    Think of the pollution these would CAUSE compared with that SAVED by rail electrification.
    And if electrification is a waste, why are electric cars subsided by paying no tax?
    And why are rail fares increased every year while road taxes are declining in real terms, notwithstanding the pollution and mayhem they cause?

  • David Faircloth, Derby

    With respect to the editor, his comment hasn't answered the question I raised.

    The editor has pointed out, quite correctly, that the pressure caused by one pantograph can make "waves" in an overhead contact wire, and that this can cause subsequent pantographs in a train to loose contact with that wire; as he quite rightly says, this is not a showstopper and can be eliminated by overhead wire design. We have this already on the WCML where class 350s run in multiple formations at speeds of up to 110mph with all pantographs raised, and its quite common to see two TGVs coupled together in France running at speeds of close to 200mph, each with a pantograph raised (usually the rear one on each set).

    If we look at the distances between the raised pantographs, on the class 350 example there's a gap of about 80m, and (using TGV-Rs as an example) about 200m; however, the distance between the two pantographs on a single class 395 EMU here in the UK is over 80m, and that between the two pantographs on a SNCF TGV-A (which has two more trailers than a TGV-R) is similar - possibly slightly greater - than between the single raised pantograph on each TGV-R working in multiple, as described earlier.

    Clearly, therefore, WCML overhead line could cope with an EMU running at a speed of 110mph with two pantographs raised, provided that they were about 80m apart; therefore - and provided that there weren't any problems with clearance, that the pantographs of a 395 were compatible with the WCML overhead, etc - there aren't any train/overhead interface reasons as to why one shouldn't run on the WCML at speeds of up to 110mph, at least.

    So, if I may, I'll ask the question again; are there any reasons as to why a 25kv AC overhead EMU can't run with two pantographs raised, thereby making sure that it is always in contact with a power supply if it runs through a "dead" section of overhead erected beneath a low bridge/area of restricted clearance?

    I've quoted two examples to try to illustrate what I mean; I can think of many examples were high speed EMUs work in multiple, each with ONE pantograph raised, but I've never seen a single high speed EMU running with more than one raised (even when more than one are fitted), nor have I ever seen a photograph of one.

    [I am glad you agree with me, and I take your point about existing practice on certain lines. I don’t think multiple pantographs would be usually be necessary, though. I can think of two instances where there is a neutral section under an inconvenient structure: one is on the Paisley Canal branch in Glasgow and the other is Steventon bridge on the GWML. Trains can easily coast for a few seconds at such places, just as they do at neutral sections in general, although for other reasons Steventon is a problem and will be until that bridge can be rebuilt or modified. If your neutral section involved a station stop or the approach to a signal, that might be another matter.--Editor.]

  • Paul , Maidenhead

    It is worth noting the HS2 is costing £400,000,000 a miles so the same amount to electrify Cardiff to Swansea is small beer.

  • Peter, York

    no wonder this Country is going to the dogs with idiots like this running the show. Just returned from Spain (Costa Del Sol) which has a superb electrified branch line with excellent, clearly recently built trains which consequently is well used.
    I agree the full system cannot be electrified but sensible extensions should be done, eg - Colton Junction to Neville Hill or the Felixstowe branch (absolute no brainer). How can freight be converted to electric traction removing even more of the hated diesel burning!
    If this Government is serious about Diesel when are they going to tackle ships which are the most polluting form of transport. Also, can anyone explain to me how we are saving the planet by transporting woodchips around the world to power stations like Drax. I seem to remember this station which was relatively clean burning was supplied from the most efficient mine in Europe over a distance of 17 miles!!

  • Geoff Kerr, Littleborough

    We have too many groups involved in setting and approving safety systems and the cost escalation of electrification is the result of the "safety at any price" culture that pervades the ORR and DfT. As I understand it, increased clearances for overhead wires have been required by the EU which are not appropriate to the UK's railways because of our smaller loading gauge. It is ORR's role to push for derogation from these new standards, not Network Rail's, but they failed to do so, hence the increase in costs.

  • David Faircloth, Derby

    This is a bit of an oversimplification - and it might be utter nonsense! It's reasonable to assume that all future electric trains will have 3-phase drives; moreover, it's also reasonable to assume that the bulk of new passenger trains will be EMUs. As I understand it, 3-phase drive traction systems are built around what I'll call a "DC wire". With modern overhead electrification systems, AC power is taken from the overhead, and after conversion to DC and passing through a transformer it is fed by this "DC wire" before being converted to 3-phase AC and supplied to the train's traction motors. With the 3rd rail DC system found in some parts of England, 750v DC is fed straight to the "DC wire", then converted to 3-phase AC and supplied to the train's traction motors. Typically, 3rd rail DC trains have multiple connector shoes and there are gaps in the electrified 3rd rail; however, having multiple collector shoes ensures that the train is - hopefully! - always in contact with a live rail, and there is therefore a continuous supply of electric power. So can this approach be adopted and adapted for 25kv AC overhead? Are there any reasons why AC powered EMUs can't always run with more than one pantograph raised? [Yes.–Ed.]And are there any reasons why overhead wires can't be erected beneath overbridges but not energised whenever clearances are "tight"? The overhead would then have an equivalent to 3rd rail gaps, and the multiple raised pantographs would ensure a continuous supply of electricity, just as collector shoes do on 3rd rail EMUs.
    [The problem with two pantographs close together is that the leading pantograph creates ‘standing waves’ in the wire which can break the contact made by the following one. It’s an issue, although not a showstopper.--Editor]

  • Michael , Reading, Berkshire

    I thought Bozo BoJo was the imbecile... It is self evident JoJo is also a Bozo.
    Lunacy a family trait when they both espouse utter rubbish.

  • Michael Zeidler, Reading

    Switzerland is near 100% Electrification, Austria at 72%, Germany above 60% and the UK below 40% - rank 20 in the EU28!!!, extremely dissappointing for a Country trying to promote their 'World Class Railway' - not a single penny would be wasted to improve on these figures. Money wasted is changing rolling stock spec several times after signing the contracts due to inability to manage large scale projects. These dual or triple traction trainsets will always cost more to run and maintain than pure electric units. Wasted only for those always travelling in the back of tinted window limousines...

  • John Gomersall, Sheffield

    Battery electric and Hydrogen are not certified for service on UK railways and I do not know of any trails that are costed and completed. The railways need decisions know that will affect them for 10 - 20 years. Public/politicians want reduced dependence on diesel. The alternative method of propulsion is electrification of the railway. You can come up with fancy plans to power trains with potatoes if you wish but the railways need to make plans with methods of propulsion that are certified for use now. We can trail alternative technology but at the moment it is that - a trial. Come on DFT/Network rail come back down to the ground and think logically for the benefit of the UK railways, freight and passengers.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    So Electrification is " A waste of money " yet during the period of the Cameron led Coalition Government every Transport Questions and many Treasury and PMQs were devoted to requests for and agreements to rail electrification.. In fact had their been a Conservative MP for the Isle of Mann I reckon promise of electrification of the Horse Tramsay would have been made !

    It's also worth remembering that justification for HS2 was on the basis of trains being able to use HS2 from London and then rejoin historic network like MML to serve stations on the MML but if electrification of Line doesn't happen then HS2 can't serve stations as promised!

    Sir Peter Hendy put forward the logical solution of treating electrification like track renewal and have an annual budget for a rolling programme of electrification.

    It's worth remembering that Scotland is independent and thus decides it's own electrification programme and if England and Wales are not to get electrification then Scotland could benefit from the spare equipment and specialist workers to increase its electrification plans !

  • Chris Jones-Bridger, Buckley

    New minister, recycled policy. Seems very similar to briefings being given a decade ago before green light was given to taking electrification forward.

    Also inconsistent with statements by same minister looking to eliminate diesel by 2040. A lot of expectation on yet unproven technology. Seems main justification for poor policy making is short term cost saving while trying to show delivery of new rolling stock by increasing deployment of bi-mode.

    Don't think anyone is expecting every last mile to be wired but there is justification for completion of the core routes.

    What has been lacking in the whole cost escalation saga is an inquiring mind asking why? There are historic benchmarks & their are comparisons to be made to other networks as to why in Britain electrification costs have escalated. Besides infrastructure is only half the equation their is also rolling stock. We are increasingly seeing serviceable fleets being displaced as franchises order new build. Apart from the lower operating costs of electric traction there is increasingly a surplus being created looking for deployment.

  • Tim Price, Bramcote

    Maybe one way to cut electrification costs further would be to use battery/overhead dual mode units? That way some of the difficult and expensive infrastructure to electrify, low bridges or tunnels for example, could be left unwired with trains switching to battery passing through, then back to overhead when clear of the structure. Or maybe a switch to DC electrification for these areas, where clearances may be less? There may be other solutions but I refuse to accept that there is no other way round the problem than relying on unproven technology or staying with fossil fuels.

  • Tim, Plymouth

    I agree that a rolling electrification scheme would be best. Having a team of staff on permanent contracts would save money. Performance would be measured on how many miles they achieve in each quarter.
    Any routes that are due to be electrified in the next 10 years would be required to order new bi-mode trains when they are due for replacement.

    Hydrogen would be good in some places, where there are long gaps between stations and there are problems like the dawlish sea wall, or damp tunnels that can't be electrified. But they would have to be bi-mode so they can run on direct from the partially electrified routes where available

  • Tim Price, Bramcote

    Electrification is never a waste of money. The more you commit to the more economical it gets, and as the trains are more reliable and cheaper to run there will always be a cost benefit. It's only a case of how long it takes to recoup the cost.
    Battery and Hydrogen power is unproven, and with even the best case scenario, the technology is many years from being perfected while diesel replacement is needed now. I'm fairly sure there are no plans to power HS2 services on "Biopic Duckweed"?
    A rolling electrification programme is needed, continuing with, and expanding on, the cancelled programmes. Then the inter regional routes linking up cities across the country, followed by the local routes.
    The real sticking point is that no one in this, or for that matter all previous governments, wants to bite the bullet, accept the inevitable and pay for it.
    We have a law that requires a percentage of the UK's budget be spent on foreign aid. Maybe we need a law that a certain percentage of the transport budget be spent on electrification?

  • Jez Milton, Manchester

    The obvious way to progress electrification is by deciding (quickly) upon a prioritised list of schemes, then assembling, from across Britain, a crack team comprising the best electrification designers, installers and managers, with the best kit. The team would be extremely well-paid, but the norm would be working away from home, with (something like) a 10 days on, then 5 days off, arrangement.

    Those who have failed spectacularly with electrification in CP5 can find something else to do, ideally in highways or aviation. The senior management at Network Rail - including Carne - should face far fiercer censure given that NR has become a national laughing stock over the last decade.

    Don't blame DfT for rejecting electrification, it is down to NR (with ORR not helping). But the way forward suggested above should be sold to ministers. Start identifying who in electrification deserves an offer they couldn't resist.