The length of electrified railway tracks in the UK has increased by only 45 miles over the past ten years

Rail electrification in UK barely advanced in last decade

The proportion of the UK's rail network that has been electrified has hardly changed over the past ten years, barely rising from 32 per cent in 2004/05 to 33 per cent this year. 

Data released by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) revealed that while during the 2005-2010 Labour government period there was a net increase in electrified track of 24 miles, during the 2010-2015 Conservative-led coalition government, the net increase was only 21 miles.

"We've got a lot of catching up to do,” said Bruce Williamson, spokesman for independent campaign group Railfuture.

"Switzerland has 100 per cent rail electrification and most of our European counterparts have a much higher proportion than we have."

Non-electrified tracks, Williamson said, come with a number of disadvantages, ranging from slower and less reliable journeys to more expensive, inefficient and polluting trains.

The ORR data comes after a report published by MPs last week highlighted under-investment in railway electrification in the country.

The report, published by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee described cost increases for electrifying the Great Western railway line between London and South Wales as "staggering and unacceptable" after being told it could rise to £2.8bn, despite an estimate of £1.6bn a year earlier.

The committee also found there is "far too much uncertainty" over costs and delivery dates for the electrification of the Midland Mainline from Sheffield to Bedford and the TransPennine line between Manchester and York

"We haven't historically done massive investment in infrastructure looking 30 years ahead as the French and others have done," said Mark Smith, who runs rail website The Man In Seat 61, commenting on the report.

According to Smith, most of the investment into railways in the UK goes to buying new trains and improving frequency of services.

"We tend to take a very short term Treasury-led and finance-led view of the world," he said.

"In much of western Europe, electrification has become the norm. Not absolutely everywhere, but an electric railway is almost more normal than a diesel railway on mainline routes.

According to Chris Jackson, editor-in-chief of Railway Gazette Group, there has been ‘no significant electrification of existing railways completed in the UK for 20 years’. Jackson believes that privatisation largely stopped the progress of electrification with only minor schemes such as the line between Crewe and Kidsgrove going ahead.

Whereas in 2004/05 the UK had 10,014 miles of rail track, out of which 3,231 was electrified, by 2015 the total length of rail tracks decreased to 9,793 miles with the length of electrified tracks increasing by only 45 miles to 3,276 miles.

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