The top engineer at Network Rail has warned the coalition government that any reduction or delay to the planned national programme for electrification would be a lost opportunity that would be felt by the travelling public for years to come.
Steve Yianni, director of engineering, also claimed that any cuts to the electrification programme would force the industry to shelve plans to invest in mechanised construction processes, which are expected to significantly reduce build costs.
The national programme, announced by the previous government, would see the electrification of the Great Western Main Line between London, Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea, and between Liverpool and Manchester. Work on the Midland Main Line would then be expected to follow.
In advance of next month’s comprehensive spending review, Yianni said: “When we look back over the last decades of experience on electrification, we’ve had feast and famine. But for the last 15 years there’s been almost nothing new in terms of electrification.
“Now we have a programme which is likely to span at least 10 years and we hope beyond that.
“That’s really important because it gives ourselves and the industry confidence to invest in the right tools to deliver it efficiently, and the right people and competencies we need to put the wires up.
“With a national programme where there is sufficient quantity of wires to put up, it makes sense to invest to automate the delivery. If we don’t have a national programme, then we will not get the same efficiencies.
If the programme were stalled, delayed or did not happen it would be a lost opportunity.”
Yianni said that Network Rail had developed a specification for a factory train, effectively a highly automated rolling production line that can install electrification equipment such as masts and wiring in one track movement, and planned to open negotiations with the supply chain by the end of the year. The all-in-one technology is much quicker and cheaper than manual methods and is seen as vital to Network Rail’s plans to expand its electrified network.
Yianni said: “There is a specification for a factory train and we intend to go to the market and say ‘this is what we would like’. That should happen this year.”
He said that a factory train would offer standardised delivery and higher rates of output.
Around 1.5km of wires could go up in a nightshift – we think that’s eminently achievable.”