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There is no plan

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Our editorial recently posed the question “Where’s the plan?” in respect of train procurement. Five thousand vehicles were ordered between 2014 and 2019 though since then there has been no substantial mainline train orders except for HS2. As a result, Alstom’s Derby factory has run out of work and over 1,300 employees face redundancy. As this plant supports 15,000 jobs in the wider supply chain, many more jobs will be lost.

As our feature ‘Unplanned Rolling Stock procurement’ explains, Derby is the UK’s only integrated train manufacturing facility. When new trains are eventually ordered, this is likely to have become a plant assembling imported components. Hence, funding for future trains will be largely spent outside the UK.

As new trains are procured with private finance, the only reason for the current train order hiatus is Government inaction. Such ‘boom and bust’ procurement increases costs due to reduced productivity and the loss of a skilled workforce. It also increases railway costs as increasingly elderly trains become more expensive to maintain.

The Rail Network Enhancement Pipeline (RNEP) was set up in 2018. It was to be updated annually to show enhancement projects approved for Development, Design, or Delivery. Yet despite Government commitments, RNEP was only updated once in 2019. Instead of providing the supply chain with clarity, the resultant uncertainty makes it difficult for businesses to invest for the future, particularly in their people.

The plan for HS2 enjoyed strategic cross-party support for over a decade. Indeed, on a visit to Japan, its benefits were extolled by Transport Secretary Mark Harper only three months before HS2 phase 2 was abruptly cancelled. As our HS2 update shows, the competence of those making this decision is questionable as it resulted in significant abortive costs, loss of benefits, and leaves the capacity problem that HS2 phase 2 was to solve unresolved.

There was certainly no consultation with key stakeholders, in particular the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which is a government body set up to provide impartial, expert infrastructure advice. Abruptly cancelling a major strategic project in this way also negates years of planning by city regions and undermines the confidence of international investors in future UK projects.

NIC noted that there is now a major gap in the UK’s rail strategy as Network North offers little clarity about its proposed new rail schemes. There is now no plan to address West Coast Main Line (WCML) capacity constraints south of Crewe for which the Government response includes an unrealistic claim that HS2 phase 1 will provide 250,000 seats per day (i.e. 18 x Pendolino trains per hour, 24 hours a day). Few in the industry would agree with the Department for Transport’s claim there won’t be a WCML capacity problem until the mid-2030s.

Despite the decarbonisation imperative, the Westminster government still has no overall plan to electrify intensively used unelectrified lines. Yet as our ‘Electrifying Scotland’ feature describes, there is a plan north of the border where it is recognised that electrification is a profitable investment that offers cheaper, higher performing, and more reliable trains, as well as decarbonising the railway.

Although it is good to see a 75% target to increase freight growth by 2050, this is only a 2.1% annual increase. There is no supporting capacity enhancement plan to support this target which was announced two months after HS2 phase 2’s cancellation which eliminated opportunities to increase paths on Britain’s busiest freight route.

In May 2021, the Williams-Shapps report recommended the creation of Great British Railways (GBR). This also committed to the production of a 30-year ‘Whole Industry Strategy Plan’ in 2022. There is as yet no such plan and the GBR transition team is unable to advise when it will be produced.

There are thus no (Westminster) Government strategic plans for the nation to get the best from its railways. With nothing likely to change before the election, it is to be hoped that a new Government will take a more enlightened approach.

Yet this needs the industry to advise a prospective new Government how the railway can best contribute to economic growth and transport decarbonisation. This must surely include the elimination of ‘boom and bust’ procurement of trains, projects, and electrification for which a rolling programme is required. The ill-informed decision to cancel HS2 phase 2a should also be reversed. As this already has an Act of Parliament, any credible alternative will take five years longer to deliver at significant additional cost.

In contrast to Government inaction, the industry is doing much to resolve the problems it faces. In two features, Malcolm Dobell describes initiatives on the mainline railway and Transport for London to reduce train fleet whole-life cost. We also explain how the innovative iWagon was developed without any innovation funding. This could significantly reduce wagon maintenance costs and freight train derailments. However, it could not have prevented the unusual freight train derailment at London Gateway on which we report.

Paul Darlington has been finding out about the Trilink programme, the large-scale multi-discipline WCML North renewals programme. He explains how this is taking a cross functional, innovative approach to provide an efficient railway, tailored to the needs of the customers.

The four-year programme to renew the iconic Barmouth Viaduct also required an innovative approach. Bob Wright describes the complex logistics and novel techniques required. Far less complex structures are the legacy railway bridges that are the topic of Graeme Bickerdike’s feature. In this, he explains his concern that National Highways might demolish or infill these structures instead of finding alternative uses for them.

We also feature stations in this issue. An article on improving their accessibility includes initiatives for British Sign Language travel announcements. Scotland’s station re-opening record is also covered as is the complex integrated information management and control system to be provided at HS2’s stations.

David Fenner was at SIGEX, the recent Railway Industry Association’s signalling innovation event, and reports on the initiatives that support the target to reduce signalling costs by 40% by 2029. Much signalling and other work was done over the festive season as Matt Atkins describes. We should be grateful to those who work in all weathers to make this happen.

How Network Rail Scotland determines the required mitigation during severe weather is described in another feature. This includes the role of the professional meteorologists employed in its control room.

Finally, all at Rail Engineer were saddened to learn of the passing of our founder, Tom O’Connor whose life we describe. He was a fervent supporter of both the UK railway and its people. Tom’s vision was of a quality railway engineering magazine, “written by rail engineers for rail engineers.” I, and my fellow writers, are proud to be a part of his legacy.

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


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