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Britain has 'a lot of catching up to do' over railway electrification

Published 23/11/2015

The UK is behind most of Europe in terms of the electrification of rail lines
The UK is behind most of Europe in terms of the electrification of rail lines

Rail campaigners have declared that Britain has "a lot of catching up to do" after latest figures show the proportion of the network that is electrified has remained virtually unchanged over the past decade.

Press Association analysis of data from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) shows that 33% of track is electrified, compared with 32% in 2004/05.

The ORR report states there was a net increase in electrified track of only 21 miles during the 2010-15 coalition government - three miles less than what was achieved under the 2005-10 Labour government.

Bruce Williamson, spokesman for independent campaign group Railfuture, said: "We've got a lot of catching up to do.

"Switzerland has 100% rail electrification and most of our European counterparts have a much higher proportion than we have."

He said there was "a whole load of negative consequences" from the shortage of electrification, such as slower and less reliable journeys for passengers, and more expensive and inefficient trains.

MPs published a report last week which raised severe concerns about rail investment in the UK.

The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) described cost increases for electrifying the Great Western railway line between London and south Wales as ''staggering and unacceptable'' after being told it could rise to £2.8 billion despite an estimate of £1.6 billion being given just 12 months earlier.

The committee also found there is ''far too much uncertainty'' over costs and delivery dates for the electrification of the Midland Mainline from Sheffield to Bedford and the TransPennine line between Manchester and York

Mark Smith, who runs rail website The Man In Seat 61, said that while there has been investment in new trains and improving the frequency of services, electrification has been lacking in Britain because of the costs involved.

"We haven't historically done massive investment in infrastructure looking 30 years ahead as the French and others have done," he explained.

"We tend to take a very short term Treasury-led and finance-led view of the world."

Mr Smith added: " In much of western Europe, electrification has become the norm. Not absolutely everywhere, but an electric railway is almost more normal than a diesel railway on mainline routes.

"We are way behind places like France, Germany and Italy."

Chris Jackson, editor in chief of Railway Gazette Group, said there has been "no significant electrification of existing railways completed in the UK for 20 years".

There have been some minor schemes - such as the line between Crewe and Kidsgrove - which were driven by the rail industry, but "nothing" that was led by Westminster, Mr Jackson added.

He said electrification was "derailed by privatisation" as it was difficult to put together proposals for the work because costs and benefits were attributable to different sectors of the network.

Just 3,276 miles of Britain's 9,793 miles of rail track is electrified (33%), according to the latest ORR figures. Electrification for the 2004/05 period was 3,231 miles out of 10,014 miles (32%).

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesman said: "We have embarked on the biggest modernisation of the railways since the Victorian times to transform the network and deliver significant benefits for passengers."

Although the ORR data show the net increase in electrification since 2010 is 21 miles, the DfT said it has " delivered 50 miles of electrified track" in that period.

Electrification between Liverpool and Manchester, and Liverpool and Wigan, was completed earlier this year.

Separate figures show the amount of railway track open for traffic increased by a net total of just four miles during the life of the coalition government.

This compares with a decrease of 226 miles during the 2005-10 Labour government, however.

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