Electrification holds key to reversing rail’s skills drain
A rolling programme of electrification is needed to prevent the loss of skills that will be needed in the future.
Addressing a House of
Commons Transport Select Committee meeting on November 11, Railway Industry Association Technical Director David Clarke said: “The last of the live electrification delivery projects, the Midland Main Line to Corby, is just ending. We could end up in the ridiculous situation where we are losing capability when we know that we are going to need it in a few years’ time.
“Our call is for a rolling programme of electrification, which this Committee has previously called for, supported by fleet orders of low-carbon rolling stock.”
As well as addressing the possible loss of skills, Clarke said this was needed to meet decarbonisation targets set by Government.
He told MPs that while electrification is technically suitable for any line, the issue would be cost: “You would apply electrification where the costs can be outweighed by the fact that you are running freight, which needs the energy that electrification can provide.
“At the moment, we have a challenge with freight. Other solutions do not have the energy density to haul a freight train. If you have freight, high speed and intense railways such as commuter railways, electrification is the only answer if you cannot use diesel.”
Porterbrook Chief Executive
Mary Grant told MPs that, for the first time, the industry was beginning to see a potential roadmap for a 30-year-strategy: “That is pleasing. When you are looking at procuring assets and rolling stock, you need to take a long-term view because they have a long-term life value. There has been a clarity that we have not seen much before.
“The ask now is for that to come to a firmer commitment, so that we can take the right level of decision-making to support the infill requirements.”
Discussing the benefits of using electric trains, Clarke said: “The beauty of it is that you do not have to carry your power around with you. For hydrogen and battery, you do. That takes up quite a lot of space, which means that hydrogen and battery, even if there are the most ambitious levels of improvement in energy density and indeed cost, are highly unlikely to be able to do those duty cycles.”
Clarke said that if “we crack on for the first 15 or 20 years electrifying the core bits of the network and rolling out lowcarbon rolling stock”, then the industry would know a lot more about technology when making decisions for the remaining ten years of a 30-year strategy.
“I could entirely see that there would be more hydrogen and battery in the last ten years displacing some electrification.
But it is not going to displace electrification in its entirety,” he said.
Former TSC Chairwoman Lilian Greenwood highlighted that currently 58% of passenger trains and 96% of freight trains in the UK are diesel-powered, compared with 26% and 44% respectively in Europe.
She asked what could be learned from abroad, with Clarke replying: “We have a graph that looks at the mountain range that is the feast and famine of UK electrification, with a 20-year gap between East Coast and CP5 [Control Period 5, 2014-19). If you compare that with Germany, they have been shelling out 200km a year every year for 50 years. Guess who is the most efficient at delivering electrification? It isn’t us.”
Asked how quickly a decision from Government is needed to get the rolling programme going, Clarke replied: “Yesterday would be good.”