2 Mar 2011

Inter City Express and Great Western Electrification

Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport, said this yesterday in Parliament

"Over the last few months we have worked together on these issues and I can now announce that I am resuming the IEP procurement and proceeding with the proposal that Agility Trains have put forward as preferred bidder.

"We will now work with Agility Trains with a view to reaching financial close by the end of this year. This is, of course, subject to the Government continuing to be satisfied that the proposal offers value for money as the commercial negotiations are concluded and that the final arrangements are compliant with the United Kingdom’s EU obligations.

"This deal will allow us to provide better, faster, more comfortable services and to continue providing through-journeys between London and parts of the rail network which are not electrified.

"In total, there will be over 11,000 more peak time seats each day on the Great Western Main Line and East Coast Main Line post IEP, compared to today.

"Hitachi is today confirming its plans to locate its European train manufacturing and assembly centre at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham. This investment is expected to create at least five hundred direct permanent jobs as well as hundreds of temporary construction jobs. Thousands more job opportunities will be created in the UK manufacturing and service supply chains.

"Coming just days after the news of the re-opening of the Redcar Steel Works, this is a massive – and very welcome – shot in the arm for the skilled work forces of the North East’s industrial heartland.

"I turn now to the related issue of electrification of the Great Western Main Line. I announced to the House on 25 November that, over the next six years, Network Rail will electrify the commuter services on the Great Western Main Line from London to Didcot, Oxford and Newbury. I recognise that this announcement, although welcomed in the Thames Valley, left unanswered the clear aspirations of rail users further west for the extension of electrification to Bristol and into Wales. I and my Rt Hon Friend the Secretary of State for Wales have subsequently considered the options for extending electrification, alongside the Government’s consideration of the proposals for replacement of the current diesel Intercity trains, and in close consultation with the Welsh Assembly Government.

"We have concluded that there is a case for extending electrification westwards to Bristol and Cardiff and I am today asking Network Rail to add this major extension to their electrification programme immediately.

"This is good news for Wales and the South West – against a backdrop of public spending constraint as we deal with the legacy of debt we have inherited. Bringing electrification to Cardiff will mean that we are linking, for the first time, the capital cities of England, Scotland and Wales by electrified rail.

"These measures will deliver a London to Cardiff journey time of an hour and 42 minutes and will shave 22 minutes off the London to Bristol journey.

"I have received representations calling for electrification of the Great Western Main Line to be extended as far west as Swansea and we have looked carefully at the arguments. The business case for electrification is heavily dependant on the frequency of service. Services between London and Swansea currently operate at a frequency of only one train an hour off-peak. There is no evidence of a pattern of demand that would be likely to lead imminently to an increase in this frequency. Consequently, I regret to say that there is not, at present a viable business case for electrification of the mainline between Cardiff and Swansea.

"But, because of the decision to proceed with Agility’s proposal for a bi-mode train, journey times from London to Swansea will be shortened to two hours and 39 minutes – 20 minutes faster than today - with trains switching automatically to diesel power as they leave Cardiff. Because the constraining factor on the South Wales Main Line is speed limitations dictated by the geometry of the line, there would be no time saving benefits from electrifying the line from Cardiff to Swansea.

"However, the policy of the Government is to support a progressive electrification of the rail network in England and Wales, for environmental, among other reasons. My Rt Hon Friend, the Secretary of State for Wales, and I will therefore keep under active review the business case for future electrification of the Great Western Main Line between Cardiff and Swansea in the light of developing future service patterns."

It is good news that the investment will be happening. But the other manufacturers cannot be pleased. This has all the appearance of having been handed to Hitachi, if not exactly on a plate, then under conditions favourable to the Japanese company. Bombardier will, however, probably be happy to get an order for Crossrail, or Thameslink or both. Alstom had dropped out of the IEP competition long before Hitachi won against the Bombardier-Siemens consortium. But since then, the specification has been re-negotiated to the point that it could be argued that the contract should have been re-tendered.

What is less good news is that this brings us no nearer to providing the travelling public with a generation of more spacious and comfortable trains than those that have been inflicted on them for the past few decades. Again, these are fixed-formation trains that will bring with them the need for elaborate yield management systems to make the best use of the resources, and hence a complex fares structure with astronomical charges for open tickets.

With vehicles even longer than the 23 metre mark 3 stock, there is no possibility of building out to anything like the optimum width available in the restricted British loading gauge. For the next few decades, therefore, British train passengers will be condemned to travelling in cattle truck conditions. For a reminder of how comfortable rail travel once was, and might again have been, they will have to visit a heritage railway. Or go abroad.

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