An Electrifying Decision for Blackpool

Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group

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Published: 19th September 2017

This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group


The government is set for an uncomfortable few months amid a growing wave of protests against the recent announcement to cancel extensive plans for railway electrification across the UK and promote bi-mode trains as an acceptable alternative instead.

In July, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced plans for electrification were being abandoned between Kettering and Sheffield, Cardiff Central and Swansea, and Oxenholme and Windermere. The news followed a less public move to halt electrification plans from the scope of East West Rail.

With commuters still reeling from the bombshell, Mr Grayling revealed shortly after that TransPennine electrification was also likely to be ‘discontinuous’, with electric Hitachi trains ordered for the routes now needing to be converted to ‘bi-mode’ (able to run on both regular and electrified lines) instead.

Several MPs have been extremely vocal about their concerns following the announcement. Chris Ruane, Welsh Labour Party MP for the Vale of Clwyd, demanded to know how much of the network had been electrified since 2010 and which rail electrification projects had been cancelled since 2007.

Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East, wrote to Mr Grayling, citing the ‘many angry Welsh MPs’ who were demanding explanations since the Cardiff-Swansea scheme was scrapped. Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire, described bi-mode trains as the ‘second-best option’ for Wales.

Discontent has grown outside parliament too, with environmental campaigners carrying a giant electric plug on a relay journey by rail from Bedford to Sheffield earlier this month, compiling a petition en-route.

It is expected that Chris Grayling will shortly announce the delayed Statement of Funds Available for Network Rail’s Control Period 6, for the period between 2019 and 2024, with a decision by October, which will include the outlook for future electrification.

However, it’s not all bad news for rail electrification in the UK. Last week, details were revealed for the completion of electrification of the line between Preston and Blackpool North. Work will get underway this autumn, with an expected completion date of January 2018.

Between 11 November and 28 January, bus replacement services will run between Blackpool North and Blackpool South to Preston, so that work can be completed faster and without disruption. The scheme hasn’t been without its delays though; Balfour Beatty was the original contractor, but it relinquished the contract in August 2015, after admitting it couldn’t meet the demands of the project on time or in budget.

Now VolkerRail, Atkins, Murphy and Siemens will replace more than 11km of track, install over 1,100 overhead line structures and build three footbridges. There will be extensions to several platforms at Blackpool North, as well as construction of a third platform and step-free access at Kirkham and Wesham stations.

The signalling will also be upgraded on both lines into Blackpool, with 84 new signals being installed.

Network Rail London North Western route managing director Martin Frobisher, said: “The upgrade of the line between Preston and Blackpool is the largest rail investment in the area since the 19th century. It will enable greener, quieter and more reliable train services, providing passengers and Blackpool with a railway to be proud of.

“As Blackpool’s economy grows, the railway is growing too and we are working with the wider industry and our Blackpool region partners to keep the people of Blackpool and the Fylde on the move throughout the closure. There is never a good time to carry out this type of work but we have planned it to take place outside of the main holiday season so it causes the least impact.”

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