Electrify the rails

Not only did 'Thatcha' promote war, increase the gap between rich and poor and maim the UK economy with deregulation and a system based on dubious finance capital rather than manufacturing, she did her best to assault our railways...now we need to say goodbye to all things Thatcher (and Blair), electrifying the railways is part of this process according to ASLEF leader Keith Norman Darrel mailed this to me, originally on the Compass site, I am a compass sceptic but good to see them promoting this.

Getting on track: it's electrification or bust says Keith Norman

In 1979 British Rail proposed electrifying 250 miles of track every year. A
programme that was cancelled by Margaret Thatcher. Almost thirty years
later, faced with volatile oil prices, environmental concerns and a general
deterioration in passenger satisfaction, there is a growing consensus, that
electrification of the railways is not only desirable but necessary.

Only last year a government white paper, Delivering a Sustainable Railway,
apparently rejected network-wide electrification so it was something of a
surprise when earlier this year, the then Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly
seemed to recant, saying that she ‘can see great potential for a rolling
programme of electrification'. Whether Kelly's successor, Geoff Hoon, feels
the same remains to be seen but the benefits certainly outweigh the
predicted difficulties; the cost of electrification, train performance
issues and the current lack of radio-based cab signalling.

Electric trains are not only cheaper to operate than diesels, they cost less
to maintain, emit between 20-35 per cent less carbon, and zero emissions at
the point of use, improving air quality along the route, and offer greater
capacity and enhanced passenger comfort. Of course ASLEF can not ignore the
health, safety and comfort benefits to its members that are inherent to
operating an electrified train.

So why does Britain lag so far behind many of our European neighbours when
it comes to electrification of our railways?

The main obstacle is the perceived cost of electric traction. Any programme
as ambitious in scope as the electrification of the rail network will
obviously not come cheap. And there is inevitable reluctance among operators
who hold rail franchises for just seven years to commit to long term
spending plans. Put bluntly, electrification is simply not on Network Rail's
agenda because there is no profit to be made.

To fund a change as fundamental as that which saw diesel replace steam will
require public investment on a massive scale. Estimates put the cost of
installing the required infrastructure of wires and posts at around £400,000
for every kilometre of track. (some estimates are considerably higher).
However even these compare with the price of building new motorway links at
a cost of more than £15m per kilometre. A figure that not begin to take into
account the massive environmental cost of road building.

This will need unwavering commitment from successive governments in order to
succeed. However research published last year indicates a positive Benefit
Cost Ratio for full electrification of many lines including the Great
Western Mainline from Maidenhead which is to be electrified as part of
Crossrail. Meanwhile Transport Scotland is currently committed to a plan
which will see a major expansion of the electrified part of the network by
2016. This will include the track which connects Edinburgh to Glasgow via
Falkirk, one of the busiest routes in Scotland. There are hopes that
expanded electrification in Scotland will replicate the success of England's
last major railway electrification project which was completed in Yorkshire
in the mid-nineties after it was initially begun by British Rail. In some
parts of Yorkshire electric trains now carry 75 per cent of commuters and
passenger numbers have increased by 19 per cent year on year since

Another reason for the government's reluctance to commit to expanded
electrification is that, despite the non-sustainability of a rail network
dependent on oil there are concerns about how the additional electricity
needed will be generated. The government is bent on pursuing a ‘more
ambitious' nuclear programme. ASLEF strongly supports alternatives such as
‘clean coal' or renewable energy.

Even without the long-term savings, fewer moving parts means less
maintenance, fewer vibrations mean longer operational lives, and enhanced
passenger comfort means increased revenue, if we are ever to end our
dependence on a finite supply of oil there really is no other choice. Its
electrification or bust.

Sign the
electrification petition.

Keith Norman is General Secretary of ASLEF


Nikki said…
Surely the most sustainable attribute of an electric railway, particularly a high speed one, is that it, even if the French TGV runs on nuclear power, the network has the potential to be run entirely on renewably generated electricity and would therefore be carbon neutral when the environmental debt for the infrastructure has been paid. The UK has enough renewable capacity to run itself and a large part of our european neighbours if only the governments would commit themselves.

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