�1.1bn rail electrification gets go-ahead

Britain's railway industry has welcomed Government plans for a major electrification programme that will see electric mainline trains running in Wales for the first time.

The Prime Minister and Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis have announced a £1.1bn programme to electrify the London to Swansea (Great Western) and Liverpool to Manchester lines.

Work will start immediately and for Liverpool-Manchester will be completed within four years and for London-Swansea within eight years, although stages in between will be completed earlier.

There were about 21 million passenger journeys on the Great Western line in the last financial year and over one million passenger journeys on the Liverpool-Manchester route.

The programme will increase the proportion of electric train journeys in Britain from 60 per cent to 67 per cent and is expected to stimulate further intercity and regional transport improvements across the country. For example, it will enable electric train services to run from Manchester and its airport to Glasgow and Edinburgh and open up the option of extending Crossrail to Reading.

The Great Western electrification will include the lines to Oxford and Newbury. It will make possible the direct replacement of the Intercity 125 diesel fleet by new electric Super Express intercity trains, to be built by Hitachi. The Department for Transport says hybrid diesel/electric Super Express trains will serve destinations beyond the electrified network.

Infrastructure operator Network Rail will be responsible for delivering the schemes. Its chief executive, Iain Coucher, said they represented a good start, but there was much further to go. "Network Rail has been pushing for electrification for a long time. Passengers will soon reap the benefits that electrified lines bring – quieter and smoother rides on trains that cause less wear and tear to the track, trains that are more reliable and often faster. Further electrification will also help open up more diversionary routes so that we can keep people on trains and off buses as we carry out planned rail improvement work."

Network Rail is developing the concept of a mobile electrification factory, designed to operate with minimal disruption to the railway while providing a safe working environment for engineers. The concept includes three piling trains and one wiring train which will operate in tandem as one single ‘factory’ unit.

Speaking at London's Paddington station, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "This is the future. It is green, it is faster and it's more reliable. This is about making the railways fit for the 21st century." Asked if the Government could afford such a scheme now, he replied: "We have set aside money for this. It's an important priority for us."

Lord Adonis commented: “It is essential that we invest in our railways now and over the longer term. This is the biggest electrification programme for a generation and a vital part of our rail investment and carbon reduction strategies. It will be of huge benefit to passengers, who will gain from faster, cleaner and more reliable trains.

“Electrification of the Great Western Mainline will bring significant new strategic opportunities for developing rail services. In particular it would be possible to run Crossrail services west of the existing proposed terminus at Maidenhead, through to Reading."

The Railway Forum is one of the industry bodies that has been campaigning for further electrification. Its director general, Paul Martin, welcomed the proposals: "New electrified lines have the potential to do much to improve reliability and punctuality, while at the same time bringing environmental benefits for the nation. The work will also provide much needed infrastructure investment in the economy, with the new jobs that entails. We hope that this announcement will lead on to the electrification of other lines in due course."

However, the DfT's earlier promise of 1300 new rail vehicles must now be in some doubt. A revised rolling stock plan is to be published in the autumn, taking account of the additional electrified routes.

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