The Government’s announcement of electrification of parts of the rail network didn’t come as a surprise. What IS surprising (to me at least) was that one of the two lines due to be wired is the line from Liverpool to Manchester via Newton-le-Willows.
The Chat Moss route is the original Liverpool & Manchester Railway, the line of Stephenson’s Rocket and the Rainhill Trials. For many years it was the main route to Manchester, but more recently its fortunes have declined somewhat as many of the long-distance express services were diverted to run via Warrington. That’s all set to change with this announcement, however.
Once you read the DfT’s report, it’s clear that the route has been chosen because the benefits go beyond the Liverpool-Manchester corridor.
Firstly, putting wires up between Manchester and the junction with the West Coast Main Line at Parkside will provide a direct electrified route between Manchester and Preston for the first time. This means that Manchester-Scotland services will be able to use electric trains. This is better for the environment (running diesels on a route already electrified for 85% of its distance is a questionable practice). It’s also better for passengers: the Class 185 trains with their commuter-style seating layout are not really suitable for such a long run. These displaced trains will move back to the trans-Pennine route where overcrowding is becoming a problem.
Also, although it’s not mentioned in the document, the Liverpool-Earlestown section is a diversionary route for Virgin services when the route through Runcorn is unavailable for whatever reason. Electrification will permit Richard Branson’s shiny Pendolinos to continue running into Lime Street without the need for diesel-haulage or worse, complete bustitution of the service.
The new Liverpool-Manchester services will apparently be operated using refurbished Class 319 units which will become surplus to requirements on Thameslink in the next few years. I expect a flurry of indignant “second hand trains” articles in the local press over this, but ignore them: the 319s are excellent trains and have many years of life left in them.
There’s a few clouds on the horizon: The project is expected to cost Â£100million and will add to the mounting Government debt. And questions must be asked of the Conservative Party; they are almost certainly going to be in Government after 2010. Will they continue with the project? What about passengers served by the CLC route? Will they see their services downgraded in importance as focus turns to the shiny new electric line a few miles north?
But let’s not worry about that right now; this is a great development which will hopefully pave the way for more of the local rail network to be electrified. With the main line done, the case for smaller schemes to fill in gaps elsewhere (eg Huyton to Wigan via St Helens Central) becomes stronger.
It will obviously mean a lot of disruption over the next 4-5 years while the overhead line equipment is installed. In the meantime I will daydream about speeding through Earlestown on a Thameslink 319 and look forward to the day when the whole of the City Line is wired up.