As the dust settles on the fall-out from the government’s new integrated rail plan (IRP), what next for the stalled hopes of rail electrification for Hull’s main line. City leaders had hoped the IRP for the North and Midlands would finally signal the long-awaited upgrade of the line between Hull and Selby.
Instead, it’s once again been put on the back burner with no immediate sign of action any time soon.
Northern rail electrification schemes
While electrification schemes between Manchester, Leeds and York got the go-ahead, the route heading east from Selby was virtually ignored. You have to wade through 17 pages of the IRP document to find the first mention of Hull. And even then, the plan makes it clear that any electrification of the main line into Hull is far from being a priority.
The document states:
“Beyond the core network… we will take an adaptive approach as recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission.
“We are committed to delivering core IRP schemes on time and to budget. Any future schemes (such as further electrification to Hull) will depend on this and how demand and economic growth recover.”
For anyone wondering what the government’s vision of the core rail network in the North actually looks like, a handy map shows Hull on an isolated limb stuck well outside it.
At this point, it’s worth noting that the IRP envisages full electrification of the routes between Manchester, Leeds and York being completed by 2032.
In other words, Hull could have to wait another decade before the option of going all-electric is even back on the table for discussion. Even then, it’s likely that other competing rail upgrade schemes would be in the mix.
Rail freight plans for Hull also fall short
The IRP’s brief single page devoted to rail freight was also a disappointment to those who have long campaigned for improved capacity to the ports.
Despite the IRP claiming it will “support growth to major freight hubs”, including “ports on both east and west coasts”, the non-electrification of the final leg from Selby into Hull flies in the face of its pledge to use electrification as way of both reducing carbon emissions and allowing “greener, faster and more reliable movement of goods across the country and to and from mainland Europe”.
There have also been concerns raised by the logistics sector over whether the IRP’s proposals to upgrade the TransPennine route include the necessary track gauge improvements required to make rail freight a more viable option than using the M62, which is the third busiest road corridor in the UK with more than seven million truck movements per year.
Improved rail freight would make the region ‘greener’
In a statement, the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport said:
“This is critical to reducing congestion on the M62 and M60 – for passenger traffic as well as freight – since up to 1,000 HGV loads per day could be shifted onto rail, saving approximately 300,000 tonnes of CO2 a year and freeing up the UK’s vital HGV driver resource for other journeys.
“W12 gauge is needed now and is essential if the potential of Freeports on the Mersey, Humber and Tees is to be realised.
“Delivery by 2024/5 at latest is needed and current proposals to undertake the necessary work in 2030 are completely unacceptable to freight customers.”
Amid the doom and gloom, perhaps a £200m investment already taking shape near Goole might eventually offer an alternative to the long wait for electric cables over the main line in and out of Hull.
Siemens Mobility taking action
With its first phase to open next year, the Siemens Mobility train factory will also feature a £6m invocation centre where rail engineers of the future will research and develop new traction technologies such as battery and hydrogen power to be used in the next generation of trains.
Graeme Clark, head of business development at Siemens Mobility UK, said:
“Decarbonisation is very important because we can’t keep polluting the world. We are developing the next generation of trains for the UK, trains that are powered by hydrogen and battery as well as electric power.
“The correct approach to decarbonising the railway is a basket of technologies. Obviously, electrification is key but there is a lot of sense in certain routes being partially electrified with battery trains that would run for short distances and bring in hydrogen technology for the longer ranges up to 600 miles.
“We can deliver the whole package, we can do the electrification, we can deliver the trains and we have got a partnership with our colleagues at Siemens Energy so that we can produce absolutely green hydrogen from wind power and the only emission we would produce is a little bit of water vapour.”
The Siemens complex at Goole is also building 4km of its own railway track to connect it to the nearby, as of yet non-electrified main line. Perhaps that small length of track could be the start of a real green rail revolution in and out of Hull.