The transport secretary’s announcement (Fury as soaring cost halts electrification, 21 July) is disastrous for the UK – on economic, social and environmental grounds. It is a further sign that this government has no real interest in the economy and communities anywhere but London and the south-east.
That the centre and south-west should not have an “electric spine”, when you look to the high-quality, reliable, electric services enjoyed across the rest of Europe, leaves us stuck far in the past – and even further from meeting our obligations under the Climate Change Act and the Paris climate accords.
This is a particularly disastrous decision for Sheffield. Not only have we lost the electrification of our main rail link south, but, as you highlight, it puts in doubt the even more important TransPennine Manchester-to-Leeds link on which many Sheffielders rely on a daily basis. And that has to be thought of as crucial for any kind of “northern powerhouse” – businesses across the north need to be able to easily, and quickly, reach each other.
For a city with dreadful air pollution problems, it’s no help at all in tackling a health crisis.
But even beyond that, there’s the HS2 announcement – with the suggestion of an infrequent branch service into Sheffield. But this extraordinarily high-cost route, with only minor cuts to the time to London, will even further reduce other services into Sheffield – if of course it happens at all, or ever gets beyond Birmingham or Crewe. On the track record of delivery of recent governments, that seems exceedingly unlikely.
(Former leader, Green party),
• In the early 1970s, I was a draughtsman on the Great Northern Suburban electrification project. This cost £30m, took five years from government approval to electric trains running. This also included building the maintenance depot at Hornsey and a fleet of trains (that are still running). In today’s money, that would be about £300m. This was a complicated piece of railway done without computers, emails, GPS maps or computer-aided drawing. I used pen and ink on linen and had to go over to King’s Cross to get prints done. The chief electrical engineer, Ted Lyons, knew everyone who worked on the job, including contractors, and was totally in touch with the progress.
Ten years later the electrification of the main line north to Leeds, Bradford, Edinburgh and Glasgow began, 400 route miles for £309m. Both jobs were done by a nationalised British Railways. John Major promised new management who would bring great improvements to our railway. I’m still waiting to see the benefits. Clearly, the Byzantine “organisation” we now have is not delivering the railway we need and expect for the money involved.
Electric trains are faster, cleaner, weigh less, do not run out of fuel and last longer. Bi-modes when under the wires have to drag a diesel engine (made in Germany) and fuel tank around weighing several tonnes. When off the wires, they have to pull a transformer and associated equipment around and, despite what the politicians say, will not be as fast and still burn fossil fuel. Is this progress in the fifth richest country? What we do need is a rolling programme to electrify all of our major routes. This would ensure continuity, keep our steel industry viable and reduce the need to assemble and train teams every time a new project is hatched.
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
• The precursor of HS2, the Greengauge 21, proposed a high-speed (200mph and 125mph) but integrated extension to the UK’s rail network. The vanity visionaries have since morphed the HS2 plan into a quite separate super high-speed (250mph) duplication mainly of the west coast mainline, but now with no connections to either Heathrow or the Channel tunnel.
Despite talk of a “northern powerhouse”, they have shifted the centre of gravity of HS2 spending to London, adding in the redevelopment and expansion of Euston. It seems that the two primary impacts of HS2 will now be to free up capacity on the west coast mainline for more commuter services into London, and to provide the rationale for Crossrail 2, itself more than half the cost of HS2. But the visionaries assured us that HS2 would not impact planned investment in the “legacy network”.
Recently, it was confirmed that HS2 would need to demolish new houses in South Yorkshire, and the National Audit Office qualified their accounts. This month it was denied that the already astronomical costs of HS2 were escalating way beyond £55bn. It now seems that they need to cancel the plans to electrify both the Great Western mainline and the Midland mainline, and this will need costly changes to the rolling stock already ordered.
Vanity projects are similar to hard drug dependencies. They start with euphoria, and end in chaos and penury.
• Chris Grayling plainly sneaked out his abandonment of railway electrification schemes in order to avoid awkward comparisons with his announcement three days previously of the contracts for HS2. His own department is partly responsible for the problems with Great Western electrification and the cost is trivial compared with HS2, whose economics were dubious even before fresh evidence indicating still higher costs that Mr Grayling arrogantly rejects. It is also rich for him to refer to “disruptive engineering works”, given that building HS2 will disrupt services at Euston from next month and for years to come. And has he investigated the possibility that Network Rail’s problems may be exacerbated by the fact that HS2 is abstracting experienced staff and financial resources from the existing railway?
Passenger Transport Networks
• Ian Jack (Opinion, 22 July) may well be justified in his complaints about Network Rail, a body that can take a decade to produce a couple of platforms on an existing line. But when our new local station opened, the repeated delays in the final year turned out to be down to the Office of Rail and Road, which must be one of the least known regulators in the country. Ian’s piece reminds us that delay is no guarantee of serious deliberation and getting everything right. Can it be that when a delayed service begins such is the relief that critical questions during a long implementation period are forgotten?
• I read with astonishment the letter from Wilma Allan of GTR (21 July) trying to dismiss the abysmal performance of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).
I have to use Great Northern on a daily basis, and have done for many years. Since GTR has been in charge, the service has deteriorated, and continues to do so. We have seen fares rise by over 25%, and yet delays and overcrowding have become endemic. GTR has actively sought conflict with unions, at the behest of the government, so to blame Aslef/RMT is ludicrous and illustrates the willingness of GTR to hold everybody else responsible for problems it has caused.
The “new” 387 trains introduced by GTR on the King’s Lynn to London route have been an unmitigated disaster. Considering they are in fact refurbished units from another of its franchises, you would have thought any issues would have been addressed; how wrong you would be.
387s have reduced seating capacity by 30%, and the delays caused by train faults, or lack of train crew seem to get worse by the week.
To add insult to injury, GTR is introducing a new timetable in 2018. In short, they are seemingly offering commuters a worse service for ever increasing fares.
I’m not surprised GTR isn’t making a huge percentage profit, despite its best efforts. It is a shambles of a company.
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