Electrification “unpaused”

We’re not sure whether this counts as news or not, nor whether unpaused is a real word.

On reading the Department for Transport press release, plus the exchange of letters between the Chair of Network Rail and the Secretary of State for Transport, it becomes apparent that although it produces a few good newspaper headlines, it adds precisely nothing to the sum of human knowledge.

Hence our hesitation in reporting something which is a bit of a non-story.

The original announcement about electrification goes back to 2011, to be delivered by 2016, or maybe 2018. Now it’s 2022, possibly.


In terms of what it promises, there’s a promise of six fast (“or semi-fast”) trains per hour between Manchester and Leeds by 2022 (ish, possibly). This is remarkably similar to what was announced in 2011 only 6 years delayed.  We have a vague recollection that it’s the same as was promised even earlier when it was branded as the Northern Hub.

There’s nothing about whether there’s any benefit to the places in between, like the half-hourly service that we ought to have at Slaithwaite & Marsden. That would be in the detail, rather than the headline and the press release. Only it turns out there isn’t any detail.

There isn’t even the terms of reference of the review. Is this about getting more fast trains between Manchester and Leeds at the lowest possible cost (in which case the easiest way to do it is to reduce the service to those awkward places which have the temerity to be somewhere in between), or is it about doing a thorough job properly – providing sufficent capacity to meet demand for the next 40 years, including providing an improved service to the places in between? There’s still no answer to that, and some mixed and contradictory messages coming out of the various bits of the railway industry.

Department for Transport press release follows.


Work to electrify TransPennine and Midland Mainline railways will resume under plans announced today, Wednesday 30 September 2015, as part of Sir Peter Hendy’s work to reset Network Rail’s upgrade programme.

Sir Peter Hendy has outlined to the Secretary of State for Transport how work could continue. The Secretary of State has replied to the Chair of Network Rail asking Network Rail to un-pause this work.

Letters about rail electrification of TransPennine and Midland Mainline routes

Network Rail will work with the Department for Transport (DfT) and Rail North to develop a new plan for electrification of the TransPennine line between Stalybridge and Leeds and on to York and Selby to focus on delivering key passenger benefits as quickly as possible. This is an improvement on the previous plan which only changed the power supply of the trains.

The new plan will deliver faster journey times and significantly more capacity between Manchester, Leeds and York. The upgrade is expected to provide capacity for 6 fast or semi-fast trains per hour, take up to 15 minutes off today’s journey time between Manchester and York and be complete by 2022. When the work is finished, the whole route from Liverpool to Newcastle (via Manchester, Leeds and York) will be fully electrified and journey times will be significantly reduced compared to today’s railway.

The total programme of rail electrification and upgrades will completely transform the railways for passengers in the north and Midlands and help ensure that every part of Britain benefits from a growing economy.

Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin said:

As a one nation government we are making sure every part of Britain benefits from a growing economy. Connecting up the great cities of the north is at the heart of our plan to build a Northern Powerhouse. This government will see the job through and build a better, faster and more reliable railway for passengers in the north and Midlands.

Chairman of Network Rail Sir Peter Hendy said:

“The temporary pause in the programme has given us the space to develop a better plan for passengers. People can expect more services and faster journeys. We face some difficult challenges, and there is more work still to do, but the Secretary of State’s decision means we can now move forward with our plans to electrify TransPennine and Midland Mainline”.

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Refranchising of Northern and TransPennine Express

The six bidders (3 for each franchise) have now submitted their bids to the Department for Transport.

SMART and SHRUG managed to meet with representatives from all the bidders before the franchise deadline, to put across our aspirations for improved services, to demonstrate the case for improving services and to identify the challenges they would face in meeting passenger requirements (and in particular requirements relating to ensuring there is sufficient capacity on local services during peak hours, something which will require some imaginative thinking on their part).

We were generally impressed by the knowledge, enthusiasm and commitment of the people we met.

Of course, the bids are to be evaluated by the Department of Transport, who (it has been argued) don’t have the interests of passengers at small insignificant stations between Manchester and Leeds anywhere near the top of their list.

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How things used to be, 32 years ago

Found, whilst clearing out a house in Stalybridge, a timetable from 1983. Things have changed a bit since then, mostly for the better.


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A sort of promise, as yet undated

Exchanges in Prime Minister’s Questions, 08/07/2015, on the subject of the “paused” Trans-Pennine electrification

Q4. [900819]Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): The decision to pause indefinitely the electrification of the TransPennine rail line through Stalybridge and Mossley means that my constituents face many more years of delayed trains, cramped journeys and less frequent services. Are those really the characteristics of a northern powerhouse?

The Prime Minister:

Is it not typical of the Labour party today that instead of trying to get behind the northern powerhouse and trying to build a balanced economy—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that there is an indefinite pause, but that is not the case. We will be pressing ahead with this investment, and it is right that the Labour party should be supporting it.


Q6. [900821]Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab): If the Prime Minister really is committed to the northern powerhouse, he will know that an essential element of that is improved transport connectivity between the key cities of Manchester and Leeds, and that is now under threat. Given the vague and evasive answer that he gave earlier, will he now join me in welcoming the Manchester Evening News campaign to get the electrification of the TransPennine line back on track?

The Prime Minister:

I can certainly commit to that, because I said a minute ago that this is a pause and not a stop. We are absolutely committed to ensuring that the work goes ahead. We also want to get rid of the Pacer trains that were there all those years under Labour.

Plus leader comment from the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 9th July 2015, rightly pointing out that a promise that electrification will go ahead doesn’t become meaningful until one simple question is answered.



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