The "Electric Spine" was the name for part of a, now largely cancelled, rolling programme of railway electrification projects in England initially estimated to cost £800 million, but later thought to cost close to £3 billion. The aim was to form 25 kV AC overhead-wire electrified links northward from the Port of Southampton to major cities in northern and central England and a dry port container terminal in the Midlands. The government wanted efficient electric-hauled freight trains to compete with road haulage.
In 2012, the spine was set to be completed within Network Rail's Control Period 5 (CP5, 2014–2019). This will not be the case, because various works were delayed, suspended for several months, moved into Control Period 6 (CP6, starting in 2019), and then scrapped altogether (despite various preliminary work, like bridge replacement, having been conducted).
Other works associated with the project were to have included gauge clearance for large shipping containers and electrified connections to adjacent electrified routes, depots and freight facilities.
The north–south axis of the link leads to the spine name.
- 1 Routes
- 2 Constituent projects
- 2.1 Initially prioritized works (2014–2019)
- 2.2 Required works not scheduled for 2014–2019
- 3 Reactions
- 4 See also
- 5 References
A high-capacity passenger and freight corridor will run from the south coast through Basingstoke and Reading to Oxford, where it will split. One branch will run to Leamington Spa, Coventry, and the west Midlands, and another will use the re-instated East West Rail to Bletchley (Milton Keynes) for the West Coast Main Line (WCML) (to the West Midlands, north-west England and Scotland), and also onward to Bedford for the MML to the East Midlands, Sheffield and south Yorkshire.
The various projects to create the spine are at different stages of development, and will be completed at different times. The initially prioritised works are fully planned and under way as part of CP5 (i.e., works for 2014–2019). Some projects will be planned and undertaken in CP5, others will be planned in CP5 for completion in the following Control Period, and some remain yet to be firmly committed to.
Initially prioritized works (2014–2019)
East West Rail
The rebuilt 46 miles (74 km)-long East West Rail from Oxford (via Bicester and Bletchley) to Bedford was to be electrified as an integral part of the Electric Spine. This was to include the Oxford to Bicester Line, a rehabilitated stretch of the Buckinghamshire Railway from Bicester to Bletchley (and a junction with the West Coast Main Line), and the Marston Vale Line from Bletchley to Bedford (where it meets the Midland Main Line). The Bicester to Bletchley section is to be double track with a line speed of 100 mph. This phase was due to be completed in 2019, but by August 2016, it became clear that completion of the section was no longer expected by 2019, and might even slip beyond 2024. As of April 2015, electrification and track upgrade of the Bletchley to Bedford section was planned, but greater work on the East West Rail than that scheduled for CP5 would be needed to achieve the Electric Spine. In August 2017, the Transport Secretary announced that he had defunded electrification of the line.
Midland Main Line
The electrification of the MML will be extended northward from its limit at Bedford. Bedford to Derby was originally scheduled to be electrified by 2019, but the work was "paused" in June 2015 despite significant progress having already been made. The electrification to Derby and beyond (e.g., from Trent Junction via Derby to Sheffield—completion originally due in December 2020—and also to Doncaster—originally due June 2021) will be much delayed. On 30 September 2015, the Department for Transport announced the resumption of the work with revised completion dates of 2019 for Corby and Kettering and 2023 for the line further north to Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield. . Again this was shelved in July 2017 by the Transport Secretary.
Derby and Leicester station areas remodelling
Derby railway station, a junction station on the MML, received remodelled track and signalling: trains approaching from the north are segregated from those approaching from the south and west, thus removing the previous bottleneck at the station. The work was originally set for completion in December 2017, but was later pushed to summer 2018. The MML around Leicester was also being considered for capacity-improvement, but with plans being less well developed than those for Derby, and are due to be finalised in CP6.
Electrification of the Great Western Main Line and the Reading to Basingstoke Line
Part of the planned-to-be-electrified Great Western Main Line (GWML) (from Reading to Didcot) will form part of the Electric Spine. The electrification of this part of the GWML will also include the Cherwell Valley Line from Didcot Parkway to Oxford, which was announced in 2009 as part of the 21st Century modernisation of the GWML. A freight curve at Reading bypasses the station and connects the GWML to the Reading to Basingstoke Line (14 miles), which will take the spine south to Basingstoke and onward to Southampton. The Didcot to Oxford electrification, under way and initially due for completion in 2016, was delayed indefinitely in November 2016. The Reading to Basingstoke electrification, planned as part of CP5, As of April 2015[update] had no expected completion date.
Leamington Spa to Coventry line
Of the western branch of the spine from Oxford, only the Coventry to Leamington Line (9 miles) was initially prioritized for the 2014–2019 period of works. It was to have been electrified and the track doubled. However, it—along with other works—has been delayed into CP6.
Required works not scheduled for 2014–2019
Overall, the line north from Oxford to Nuneaton is scheduled for "single option development" (the stage before detailed design) within CP6, and no completion date is given. This includes the northern part of the Cherwell Valley Line from Oxford to its junction with the Chiltern Main Line near Aynho, south of Banbury; the Chiltern Main Line from Banbury to Leamington Spa (Oxford to Leamington: 43 miles); the Coventry to Leamington line and the Coventry to Nuneaton Line (roughly 9 miles each).
The South Western Main Line, which runs 34 miles from Basingstoke to Southampton and its port, is currently third rail 750V DC electrified, and will eventually be converted to 25kV AC overhead wires. This test-section of re-electrification will assess the feasibility of the wider conversion of the third-rail electric network to overhead wires. As mentioned above, electrification from Bletchley to Bedford is also not yet scheduled. Network Rail intends to develop plans for both projects in CP6.
The managing director of GB Railfreight, John Smith, has questioned the prioritisation of the Electric Spine over other freight routes: "I [do not] really understand some of the details of the electric spine. We are reviving and electrifying a stretch of railway between Oxford and Bletchley that’s been out of use for 20 years, before we electrify across Suffolk [for access to the Port of Felixstowe], double the Felixstowe branch or deal with the Immingham approaches." He stated that "the majority of electrification schemes in the UK [are to] support the passenger network."
Other freight companies' managers also have doubts in the project's benefit to freight transport given the lack of priority given to the lines to the major ports.
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