Trans-Pennine Electrification in Doubt

On the last day before the parliamentary recess, the Transport Minister Chris Grayling sneaked out the announcement that various electrification schemes would be cancelled, in the North West (the Windermere branch), in Wales (Cardiff to Swansea) and in the East Midlands( Midland Main Line, from Kettering north to Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield).

The following day he gave a press interview indicating that electrification of our route would probably also be cancelled or at the very least scaled back (once a report is published in Autumn). Our resident cynic thinks this will also be sneaked out on a busy news day in the hope that no-one notices or that the inevitable furore is diminished.

The project to electrify the entire train line between Manchester and Leeds could be cancelled because it is “too hard”, according to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

He said it was too difficult to run electric pylons along the whole line between the two cities, and that bi-modal trains could instead operate with diesel engines on part of the network.

 “We don’t need to electrify all of every route. There are places that are built in Victorian times where it is very difficult to put up electric cables,”

Mr Grayling said on a visit to Manchester, according to the Financial Times.

“If there are bits of the TransPennine network that are complicated to do and we have a bi-mode train, we can say: ‘Here is a section we can have a diesel.’ We will be electrifying TransPennine but we can do it in a smarter way.”

Once again, the minister explained his decision by saying that the introduction of new bi-mode trains means that electrification was not needed, since the units could travel on parts of the existing network on diesel as well as on the electrified sections.

In a move guaranteed to make northern passengers even more betrayed, the minister announced his full backing for the second Crossrail project in London, projected to cost £30bn. Although he thought this price too high, he committed to working with the mayor of London to enable the scheme.

While it is true that technology has moved on in recent years and the bi-mode trains appear to be more reliable than first thought, this move can only be seen as a betrayal of the north to allow the south to have the full benefit of electrification.

The trains are heavier and more expensive because they run on two differing methods of fuelling, electric motors fed from the overhead power supply and a tank of diesel to power a series of small on-board engines throughout the train. These provide power for the electric motors driving the wheels.

Later reports suggest that the government announcement was issued prematurely and that the minister had not said that the Transpennine electrification was in doubt.

It is disingenuous of the government to say that the overhead wiring spoils the countryside as the pollutants which will be spewed out by the diesel engines of the bi-mode trains will have more impact on people’s lives than the look of a few gantries and wires.

It is a clear betrayal of years of promises that finally the north would get the rail network it deserved has been placed in doubt.

Then the following day Mr Grayling stated his support for London’s Crossrail 2, a project costing may times more than Trans Pennine electrification and one that directly benefits his Surrey constituency. Insert cynical comment here about the DfT and the minister cutting back projects in the North because they don’t know or care about it, whilst spending ever more on London and the south east.

In fact here’s a comment from someone with years of experience within the railway industry, someone who really knows what they are talking about.

“Not electrifying between Manchester to Leeds on an otherwise electrified route between Liverpool to Edinburgh is not smart.

“Dual mode trains need the additional weight of diesel engines distributed through the train, so sub optimising performance and fuel efficiency over the much longer electric sections.

“Mr Grayling may not be aware of the Pennines between Manchester and Leeds. This is the section where performance is needed most. This is not smart.”

Ian Brown CBE FCILT, Railfuture Policy Director


This has implications for us. Electrification, although not sufficient in itself, was one of the key actions necessary to enable us to have the half-hourly service that we have been campaigning for.

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