UK abandons electric rail plans while Dutch push ahead

The UK Government has decided against plans to electrify railway lines in the Midlands, the North and Wales.
Published: Mon 24 Jul 2017

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Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the government will only electrify lines “where it delivers a genuine benefit to passengers”. He explained that recent developments in train power technologies means journeys can be improved without the need for “disruptive electrification works” along the routes.

The Department for Transport instead plans to deliver “modern, fast and efficient trains”, with more seats and comfort for long distance passengers. These plans will affect the Great Western Main Line in south Wales, the Midland Main Line and the Lakes Line between Windermere and Oxenholme.

The government said it is committed to using the “best available technologies” to improve each part of the network, including “bi-mode” intercity trains that can transfer from diesel power to electric and alternatively-fuelled trains that uses battery and hydrogen power.

The competition to find the next operator for the Midland Main Line is still underway and whichever firm takes over will have to introduce a brand new fleet of bi-mode trains from 2022. A public consultation on the future of the East Midlands rail franchise has been launched, which will run for 12 weeks.

In Wales, new Intercity Express trains are expected to be rolled out later this year, “switching seamlessly between electric and diesel power, delivering faster journeys and more seats for passengers without disruptive work to put up wires and masts along routes where they are no longer required”.

Protecting the environment

Grayling said the government has “listened to concerns about electrification gantries spoiling protected landscapes” in the North.

Train operator Northern is exploring the possibilities of deploying alternative fuel trains on the route by 2021, “improving comfort and on-board facilities for passengers whilst protecting the sensitive environment of this World Heritage Site”. This could remove the need to construct “intrusive wires and masts in this National Park”.

Grayling added: “Rapid delivery of passenger benefits, minimising disruption and engineering work should always be our priority and as technology changes, we must reconsider our approach to modernising the railways.

“We will only electrify lines where it provides a genuine benefit to passengers which cannot be achieved through other technologies.”

On the other end of the scale is electric train development in the Netherlands. In January we wrote about the country’s trains that are now powered by wind energy.

Dutch electric trains getting ahead

Dutch electricity company Eneco won a tender offered by national railway company NS two years ago and the two companies signed a 10-year deal setting January 2018 as the date by which all NS trains should run on wind energy. They reached their goal a year earlier than planned. NS says it achieved this goal due to the rapid development in wind farms across the country and off the coast of the Netherlands.

The electric trains draw all of its required power from Eneco’s wind turbines. One turbine, running for an hour, can power a train for 120 miles, according to the companies. Three strokes of an Eneco wind turbine drives a railway train one kilometre.

The utility and railway company hope to reduce the energy used per passenger by a further 35% by 2020 compared with 2005.


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