Freight News

Government plans to put backbone into Britain’s rail system

[ July 16, 2012   //   ]

The Government has announced plans for a high-capacity “electric spine” rail route from the North of England to the South Coast.

As well as electrifying the Midland Main Line from London through Leicester to Sheffield, the £9.4bn High Level Output Specification programme for 2014-2019 unveiled to the Cabinet on 16 July envisages replacement of the 750-volt ‘third rail’ electrification from Reading to Southampton with 25kV AC overhead electrification, giving much higher freight haulage capacity than the system it replaces. The UK is virtually unique in operating third rail electrification on long-distance railways and the system does not have the capacity to handle heavy trains. At present, freight trains between Southampton and Basingstoke have to be diesel-worked.

The Electric Spine scheme also plans wiring of the non-electrified route from Reading to the Midlands, as well as numerous schemes for capacity improvements, new lines – including a reopened and electrified Oxford-Bletchley ‘East-West’ route. Where applicable, all routes would also be upgraded to the ‘W12′ loading gauge that would allow 9’ 6” high containers to be carried on standard wagons.

The plans was hailed by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as “the biggest expansion in railways in over 150 years.”

Philippa Edmunds, manager at pressure group Freight on Rail added: “These upgrades will unlock suppressed demand for long distance rail freight services out of the ports and on key arterial routes.”

The Government added that the investment would be funded in part from fare rises already announced in 2010 and also from the substantial efficiency savings that electrification will have on the long term operating costs of the railways.

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