The government has, at last, announced an inquiry into whether plans to buy the fleet of Hitachi high-speed trains are value for money. The inquiry will delay a decision on whether to proceed with the Inter City Express programme until after the general election.
It comes after more than a year of negotiations between the Department for Transport and a consortium led by Japan's Hitachi, which was named preferred bidder last February . The consortium was due to supply up to 1,400 carriages for 125mph trains to replace the InterCity 125 diesel and 225 electric fleets. Even if the project eventually goes ahead, the inquiry will delay the retirement existing trains, built between the mid-1970s and early 1990s.
This is welcome, and not before time. What a pity that £20 million has been spent so far on development work. This alone would have paid for, four Electrostar sets or 8 electric locomotives.
The most urgent needs are
(1) to develop a new electric locomotive for use in Britain, equivalent to the TRAXX locomotive in widespread use on mainland Europe. The locomotive might actually be the TRAXX itself, adapted for the UK loading gauge, or it may be that one of the Japanese manufacturers has a design for the 3ft 6in gauge that could be modified much as the new Kent high speed commuter trains are a development of a 3ft 6in gauge Japanese design.
(2) to develop a design for a hauled passenger vehicle compatible with the mark 3 fleet, which it would augment, not replace; and
(3) to develop a haulage unit for passenger trains on non-electrified routes.
(4) to purchase the 130 redundant mark 3 and International vehicles currently in the Irish Republic, and to refurbish and re-gauging these to make them compatible with the rest of the mark 3 fleet.