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Railwatch 077 - October 1998

The benefits of electric railways

I recently helped man a stall at the East Anglian Transport Museum. Preserved vehicles kept going past - and I was struck by how quiet it was and how fresh the air smelled - for these vehicles were trams and trolley buses.

It brought home to me again, as it hopefully did to visitors to the museum, some of the advantages of electric transport.

Cleanliness and quiet are two reasons why RDS has always campaigned for more rail electrification and why we have supported many light rapid transit schemes in conurbations. Other reasons include the potential for faster, more frequent services and reduced dependence on one type of fuel.

Yet in recent years railway electrification in Great Britain has been in the doldrums. Apart from the rather specialised example of Heathrow Express, the fragmentation of British Rail has brought no new electrification schemes of significance. That is hardly surprising, when there are so many players in the field, so many opportunities to pass the buck and few incentives to long-term planning.

The announcement that there will be a Strategic Rail Authority - something for which our society had pressed hard - gives us fresh hope.

In the coming weeks and months we shall argue for it to have real powers to plan for further electrification. There is, however, a challenger to electric trains. Will the new Turbostar diesels being built and supplied to some train operating companies weaken the case for elecrification?

With electric wires from Norwich to London, how much sense does it make to use diesels for half the trains on the route? Our East Anglian branch has taken a pragmatic view of this scenario, and welcomed Anglia Railways' plans, especially as these will mean that towns away from the electrified main line will soon regain through services to London.

In the longer term, however, does it make more sense to electrify all the main arteries out of London and use the electric infrastructure to its full potential? Are upmarket diesel trains then better employed enhancing cross-country services?

The RDS Passenger Committee is setting up a working party under David Croote to revisit the issues and consider how our policy on electrification should develop. Input is welcome and should be direced to David at Orchard House, Mill Road, Old Buckenham, Attleborough, Norfolk NR17 1SG.

Another RDS specialist committee, Reopenings and New Railways, is studying another example of electric rail transport - the tramway or light rapid transit system. In some cases, this provides the best way forward. Our study also includes the scope for shared running and the implications of this, including safety and who pays for what.

The study is already well advanced and should be published in the winter. Members with comments should address these to Peter Owen at 6 Winton Court, Winton Road., Bowdon, Altrincham, Greater Manchester, WA14 2PD.

We should soon have yet more to say about eletric rail transport to those who have it within their power to make it a reality.

Note: contact details (postal and email addresses, along with telephone numbers) in old editions of Railwatch out of date. Click CONTACT US for latest contact details.


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