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Viability of Midland Main Line electrification

with 2 comments

Network Rail has ’embarked on the biggest programme of works to upgrade the Midland Main Line (MML) since it was completed in 1870′.

[Network Rail, MML improvement programme]

The line will be completely electrified, bridges and tunnels altered or rebuilt as well as work to remodel stations and carry out line speed improvements.

The Midland Main Line runs from London St Pancras to Sheffield, via Luton, Bedford, Corby, Leicester, East Midlands Parkway, Derby, Nottingham and Chesterfield. It serves a diverse set of markets ranging from long distance and commuter travel to leisure passengers visiting Derby, Leicester and Nottingham as well as London.

The MML comprises:

397 miles of track (639 km)
16 tunnels
35 stations


13 million passengers
130% increase over the past 15 years
30% rise in the next 10 years

Network Rail, 'Midland Main Line electrification benefits'

According to Network Rail, enabling electric trains to operate on the full length of the MML will deliver numerous benefits, meaning:

* More seats
* Less track maintenance
* Faster trains.

Network Rail, map of Midland Main Line

How plausible are these statements?

Firstly, there is no reason why electric trains should ‘mean’ more seats. For example, in the new Hitachi ‘Super Express‘ builds for the Great Western and East Coast routes, the diesel engines are located under the floor (and so do not take up what would otherwise be seat space).

Secondly, the claim that ‘less track maintenance will be needed following electrification’ does not seem to have an evidence base. If anything, one would expect infrastructure upkeep costs to rise, rather than fall.

Thirdly, it is unclear why electrification, in and of itself, would mean faster trains. Diesel trains already operate on parts of the route at 200 km/h.

Written by beleben

September 12, 2016 at 9:40 am

Posted in HS2, Politics

2 Responses

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  1. A project grabbed from the ether and viewed in glorious isolation this is the electrification of 2/3 of the Midland Main Line – the Northernmost point is Carlisle, and an electrified and speeded up route from Skipton to Carlisle would possibly deliver the shortest London-Edinburgh journey and very probably time as well. Even with the current line speed of 60mph on track which rides smoothly enough to suggest that 90-100mph would easily be possible, the fastest Glasgow-Leeds journeys are made via Carlisle and Appleby – a detail I discovered 40 years ago.

    The minimum detail for this should include wires from Wigston to Nuneaton, and between Bedford and Bletchley, plus connection from Sheffield to Wakefield. In this way the Midland route (with 4 tracks restored as a single coherent route (and not 2 separate lines) North of Bedford) becomes a diversion for WCML services during blockades and disruption. Long closure periods can be considered and costs reduced.

    Some additional detailing might include a new spur (using an existing formation) that connects the St Albans Abbey branch to the Midland Main Line and running the standard branch service, with an extra track slipped in to St Albans City, but a connection that permits other services to operate. The remaining Abbey Line has the potential to extend into St Albans as a tram-train and also across into Watford with on-street operation, overlaid with the train services.

    New chord connections at Bedford and Nuneaton open the options of running MML trains via Rugby as seamlessly as WCML via Kettering.

    Such connections provide WCML (and MML) with much missed resilience and flexibility including that which Beeching took out in 1968

    Dave H (@BCCletts)

    September 12, 2016 at 4:19 pm

  2. You’re quite correct about the “more seats” argument; there’s absolutely no reason as to why a diesel train with below floor engines (like the existing MML ‘Meridians’) couldn’t provide the same number of seats as an electric multiple unit.

    Regarding maintenance costs, the claim relates to TRACK, not INFRASTRUCTURE, and this probably can be justified; a straight electric train SHOULD be lighter than a diesel one, and this should be reflected in TRACK maintenance costs. However, maintenance of the overhead line will be necessary, and therefore total INFRASTRUCTURE maintenance costs may increase; I can’t recall ever seeing any figures to either prove or disprove this assumption.

    Regarding the faster trains claim, this is a sort of nonsense claim; however, although it could be legitimate in that the trains specified for the MML might have to be capable of speeds of 225kph or even 250kph (like the ECML’s IC225 and BR’s projected IC250), they will not exceed the current line maximum of 200kph in operation. Weasel words!

    Sometimes it does seem as if “faster trains” is used as a code for “shorter journey times”; electric trains can be designed so that they can accelerate more quickly than diesel ones, and this capability, coupled with the track layout enhancements planned (particularly at Market Harborough and Derby) should result in journey time improvements – some papers suggest that 9 minutes can be shaved from the current St Pancras – Derby time of 85mins by the Sheffield “fasts”. A 76 minute direct journey time v about 71 minutes via Toton and HS2 is an interesting comparison!

    There are already some differential speed limits (for HSTs/’Meridians’) on the MML; IF the electric trains procured for the MML are lighter than the current diesel ones, the theoretical possibility exists for further differential speed easements, using the ‘Sprinter’ model as a precedent. Whether (and where) such easements could be introduced, I don’t know, but so far as I am aware, this possibility hasn’t been considered at all.


    September 13, 2016 at 10:42 am

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