‘Don’t bother electrifying the rail lines - we haven’t got enough trains’

RAIL experts have warned multi-million pound plans for much needed electrification across the north risk making no difference because of a lack of trains to run on them.

The north has a shortage of suitable trains
The north has a shortage of suitable trains

MPs have heard evidence that attempts to speed up journeys through Yorkshire and across to Manchester by introducing expensive electric overhead lines are being undermined in the new rail franchise.

The Department for Transport is preparing to hand out the next franchises for services such as Northern Rail and the Trans-Pennine Express.

MPs looking at how rail in the North is funded have been told that £400m Network Rail plans to electrify the cross-Pennine route alongside a bid to electrify the Leeds, Harrogate and York line would be undermined if changes are not made to the franchise.

David Brown, representing cross-council group Rail North told a committee: “Electrification is happening across the North, working is ongoing, but if we do not build into the franchise the requirement that trains can use that upgrading we will lock ourselves out of improved services for seven or nine years.

“There is a shortage of electric trains coming into the north, that is where the missed opportunity is coming.”

The warning came after it emerged the next operator to run commuter services through the North may not necessarily be forced to upgrade trains, with only a weak commitment to upgrading the fleet where possible being written into the current plans.

Mr Brown told the committee that: “Historically there’s a lot of evidence about the spending per head on rail infrastructure in English regions compared to London and the South East, and that is always significantly less.

“There’s been an increase, the Northern hub, electrification and other projects, but that is still a small amount, and we certainly get less compared to what you would expect we get based on population.”

Current investment expectations are that the North will continue to receive older trains ‘cascaded’ down from the South, with no expectation of first-generation trains running on local routes across Yorkshire.

“Constantly being at the end of the cascade to get trains at the end of their life into the North is not the best way to get investment tin the North” Mr Brown said.

He added: “We have franchises here that were let twice previously on the expectation that there would be no growth, but the opposite has happened, steady growth every year but no significant investment in rolling stocks or stations.

“The challenge now is to make sure the funding meets the expectations of passengers.”

The committee was told that the three Northern regions need “an extra 460 carriages to make the best of what we can achieve.”

Rail North has made the business case for this level of investment, but has been told the Treasury is not yet fully on board with the funding bid.

Adding to the difficulty is a concern that even if it has the money, Rail North may not find enough spare rolling stock available.

Mr Brown said that people across the region were generally “very dissatisfied” with local services such as Northern rail

“Currently people do not believe they get value for money, and it would be wrong to increase prices without service improvements,” he added.

The Department for Transport will reveal its rail specifications addressing the concerns later this year.