Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

So, it’s all Super then?

Posted in Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure, Philip Hammond, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 2 March 2011

Thus it was that the Roads Man did speak, and lo did he proclaim the following:

And so, was it ever, that virtually every major announcement concerning the railways made by the Roads Man came from the Good Book of plans formulated by The Lord before the Great Upheaval.

It’s true. Pretty much every announcement of any significance made by this new DfT, from High Speed 2 to the GWML, were all announced by Lord Adonis when he was Transport Secretary. Yeesh.

Still, let’s not quibble. At least the government is making investment in the railways. Of course, it remains to be seen exactly how successful all of this will be. Possibly the major announcement was the final decision on IEP, which will see Agility Trains’ plans for all-electric and bi-mode multiple units, intended to replace the High Speed Train on both the GWML and ECML, put into production. Cue great rejoicing in the House of Commons when Philip Hammond announced that Agility Trains would be building a brand new plant to assemble the new trains at Newton Aycliffe:

Hitachi is today confirming its plans to locate its European train manufacturing and assembly centre at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham. This investment is expected to create at least five hundred direct permanent jobs as well as hundreds of temporary construction jobs. Thousands more job opportunities will be created in the UK manufacturing and service supply chains. Coming just days after the news of the re-opening of the Redcar Steel Works, this is a massive – and very welcome – shot in the arm for the skilled work forces of the North East’s industrial heartland.

Yes, that’s all very well. But is it the whole truth? Or is it closer to say that this new facility will be for assembling trains that have been built in Japan as kits, and then shipped to the north-east to be put together? Has Agility Trains given any guarantees as to the level of technology that will be included in its design that will be sourced from UK suppliers? I’ve not heard anything about it, have you? Moreover, what’s going to happen when the IEP contract is complete? In order to safeguard the investment that will have to be put in to building the thing, Hitachi are going to have to let it bid for more orders in the future, of all sorts. What happens if it doesn’t win anything new over the next few years? I have said publically already that Bombardier, which is Britain’s last remaining domestic train manufacturer, will almost certainly be awarded the Thameslink contract, as it would be political suicide for the government to send another huge order to an overseas supplier.

Of course, the other major announcement is the full electrification of the GWML/SWML trunk route to Bristol and Cardiff, a measure that can be taken as being analagous to elctrifying the ECML to Edinburgh and Leeds in the late 1980s. Electrification deep into the Thames Valley had already been announced, so it’s good that the decision has again finally been taken. Naturally, disappointment has been expressed that Swansea is not be included in this scheme (at least not yet), which is another reason for the choice of bi-mode SET, which will operate on electric power as far as Cardiff, switching to self-powered onwards. The hope would be though that, with good enough connections between local trains between Cardiff and Swansea and express trains to London, the difference in timing would be fairly small. But, that is not my hope. My hope is that this project, unlike the last main line electrification, is done properly. Time and again I’ve spoken about the electrification of the ECML, and how that could have potentially been converted into an “almost” high speed line. This government has an opportunity to get it right this time by installing the correct wires, with the correct spacing, together with the in-cab signalling required for trains to travel faster than 125mph. Doing this could (potentially) give the South-West and South Wales its high speed line without the massive cost of a completely new route being built. And yes, I know this is the argument that anti-HS2 groups put forward, but the difference is that doing that kind of work northwards would involve several years worth of disruption when we’ve only just got over the last decade’s worth. Doing this all in one along the GWML would mean all the disruption at once, and when it’s all done, it’s all done. With this, you could then connect it to High Speed 2 (potentially via the Heathrow spur) allowing direct high speed travel to all points of the country and making the Heathrow station relevant, rather than simply being on the end of a stub. The question in all of this though is “does the government have the guts to do it?”.

“Electrification of mainline to Cardiff gets green light”
“Newton Aycliffe train factory will create 500 jobs”

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