Monday, September 1, 2014

North Transpennine Electrification

We are going to take a little break from matters ecclesiastical, partly because I need to write about something else for once, and secondly, because I need to vent.

Northern England is straddled by a belt of fairly large cities - Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Sheffield, and Leeds - with an appropriately dense rail network. At the east end this fans out to serve a series of smaller cities and towns on the East Coast - Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Scarborough, Hull and Grimsby-Cleethorpes, along with the significant rail/industrial centres of Scunthorpe and Doncaster. These have been linked for over a century by a series of well defined routes which collectively formed what was franchised as "Transpennine Express" when the operation of the railways system was privatized in the late 1990s.

The Traditional Route Pattern.
The main routes across northern England are products of the Victoria explosion of railway construction. In order of construction they were:

* The Manchester and Leeds railway, via Rochdale and Wakefield which became the core of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (1841).
* The Manchester and Huddersfield Railway, which linked Manchester and Leeds via Huddersfield and Dewsbury, and quickly became part of the London and North Western Railway. This so-called "Diggle Route" opened in 1845.
* The Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway became the first railway to link Manchester and Sheffield directly via Penistone in 1845. This route, usually called "Woodhead" after the mountain pass it used to pass into Yorkshire.
* Lastly, there is the Hope Valley Route, opened by the Midland Railway in 1898 to link their lines in South Yorkshire with Manchester, and Liverpool.

Prior to 1948 most Transpennine services were jointly run by two railway companies. Latter this was the London, Midland and Scottish to the West, and the London and North Eastern to the East following the 1923 Grouping of Britain's Railways. Prior to 1923 the pairings had been more complex, producing the rather notorious situation in Hull where three Liverpool trains left via three different routes within half an hour each morning.

The three routes from Hull to Liverpool were the North Eastern and LNWR route via Selby, Leeds, Dewsbury, and Huddersfield to Liverpool Lime Street; the Lancashire and Yorkshire via Goole, Wakefield, Rochdale, and Oldham to Liverpool Exchange; and the Great Central via Doncaster, Sheffield, Penistone, Manchester, and Warrington. Newcastle to Liverpool traffic tended to run via Sunderland, Stockton, Northallerton, and Harrogate to Leeds, then via Diggle and the LNWR to Lime Street; whilst Scarborough was served by good connections at Leeds.

The other Transpennine route was from New Holland (later Grimsby) via Brigg, Gainsborough, and Retford to Sheffield and Manchester, with a few trains passing over the Cheshire Lines Committee to Liverpool Central.

After the grouping, the Hull-Manchester-Liverpool traffic remained competitive with routes via Leeds (ex-NER/LNWR) and Sheffield (ex-GCR) retaining service. Grmsby to Manchester and Liverpool via Sheffield continued little changed, and the old NER-LNWR route between Newcastle and Liverpool saw a steady increase in the number of trains running over it, with some travelling via York and the ECML rather than via Ripon. AND, this was to remain very much the pattern until the late 1960s.

British Rail's Rationization.
Writing in 1965 the author of 'The Future of Britain's Railways' commented that the Beeching Plan "seems to believe there was one city in Yorkshire, namely Leeds, and one in Lancashire, namely Manchester." Maybe this comment got through because when the Modernisation Plan deal with the Northeast to Lancashire long distance services in 1966/7 the new route structure turned out to be more diverse than originally though. Trains from the Northeast and Scarborough were funnelled along the old LNWR route from Leeds, through Hudderfield, to Manchester Victoria before taking the historic Liverpool and Manchester Railway into Lime Street. Services from Humberside operated from Hull (5 trains a day) and Grimsby-Cleethorpes (4 trains a day) via Sheffield to Manchester Piccadilly, and then, increasingly, over the CLC route via Warrington to Liverpool Lime Street. The Hull/Cleethorpes to Manchester service were augmented by a limited number of trains from the East Midlands and East Anglia and the Northwest to give an hourly service between Sheffield and Manchester/Liverpool. This was, in 1970, transferred from the electrified Woodhead route to the slower Hope Valley line so that all passenger trains in Sheffield could serve the Midland station. However, a series of improvements to the Hope Valley line has reduced the journey time from 63 minutes to 52, and allowed Stockport to be served via the Hazel Grove curve. This period also saw the transference of mainline trains from Grimsby-Cleethorpes from the old mainline via Brigg and Retford, to the newer, more heavily populated, but slightly slower route via Scunthorpe and Doncaster.

Subsequent developments have built on this plan, but with a couple of significant changes.
Firstly, Hull-Liverpool trains were cut back to Manchester and diverted to run via Leeds in the mid-1990s. This was accompanied by an increase to an hourly service as part of a three trains per hour service from Leeds to Manchester introduced by Regional Railways during Sectorization. The other two trains were an hourly Scarborough-York-Leeds-Manchester train, and an hourly Newcastle-Darlington-York-Leeds-Manchester-Liverpool train. At the same time all long distance trains were diverted to Manchester Piccadilly station, with Victoria being downgraded to mainly suburban status.
Initially Grimsby-Cleethorpes lost its through service to Lancashire with the Sheffield - Manchester - Liverpool service being provided by the hourly East Anglia to Nottingham - Sheffield - Manchester and Liverpool service. However, the advent of the Manchester Airport rail link led to an hourly Grimsby-Cleethorpes - Scunthorpe - Doncaster - Sheffield - Manchester Piccadilly - Manchester Airport service being introduced in 1998.
On the NTP route, a fourth Leeds - Manchester service was added in 2000, with the addition of a Middlesbrough - Northallerton - York - Leeds - Manchester train running via what was left of the old Leeds Northern Railway between Northallerton and Eaglescliffe.

With its extremely dense service over the Pennines, the route between Leeds and Manchester has been an obvious candidate for electrification for many years. However, the spread of services at the eastern end making an economic case for this has been difficult due to the high cost to benefit ratio of wiring to York and possibly Hull. Rather than break the traditional cross-Pennine links, electrification has been deferred repeatedly, until now.

With increasing pressure to make the railway "greener" two projects have become very attractive to the long term planners. The first was the Northwest Electric scheme to wire the routes from Manchester to Liverpool; and Manchester to Bury, Bolton, and Blackpool. This would allow the conversion of Liverpool-Manchester, and Liverpool/Manchester to Blackpool, Glasgow, and Edinburgh services to electric traction as well as a nest of suburban services. The second scheme that was attractive was York-Leeds-Manchester which would allow Transpennine to go electric, but this scheme has come with a hefty price tag in terms of dislocating existing traffic patterns, though undoubtedly, electric traction will be a major boon on the steeply graded route over Diggle.

In the UK, Railway investment schemes need to meet an hypothetical 8% cost to benefit ratio in order to get government approval, and whilst the Leeds - Manchester core meets this criterion handsomely, the feeder routes at the east end have difficult producing an economic case. Once the ECML was electrified, the Leeds to York section was a shoo-in mainly due to it allowing the conversion of the key Newcastle to Liverpool service to electric traction. Fringe benefits include offering better access to Leeds for East Coast trains, who could run some Northeast/Scotland trains via Leeds to offer an improved Leeds to Scotland service. It was also felt that the relatively under used Scarborough service could be switched to the ex-L&Y line via Rochdale without generating too much ill-feeling. However, the Hull Line was a different matter.

Hull-Leeds loadings are fairly healthy, and with the addition of Hull to London 'Hull Trains' services it was felt that there was a chance that the ministry would say 'yes' to Hull electrification, especially with the fringe benefit of "free" Leeds to Selby suburban electrification. However, with the less rosy economic climate post-2007, the man from the ministry said 'no' so that only the main Manchester-Leeds-York electrification, plus a short additional stretch from Micklefield to Selby for West Yorkshire PTE will go ahead. This has necessarily caused a complete rethink of Trans-Pennine services.

Instead of the present fork-like route structure, it seems likely that the new pattern with be:
2tph Newcastle-York-Leeds-Manchester-Liverpool 2tph York-Leeds-Manchester-Manchester Airport
Hull-Manchester trains will be diverted via Sheffield, which produces about the same end-to-end timing as Hull to Manchester with a change in Leeds. There will be a connecting service to Leeds, but the real loosers are Middlesbrough and North Lincolnshire, both of which will loose their through service to Manchester, and Manchester Airport altogether. Additionally, there is a strong chance that Grimsby will loose its through through service to Sheffield in favour of changing into the Hull-Sheffield-Manchester service at Doncaster, or worse still, the Sheffield service will become an extension of the all-station Sheffield to Scunthorpe service operated by Northern Rail for South Yorkshire PTE. Admittedly carryings from west of Sheffield to east of Doncaster (and vice versa) have never been as high as anticipated, but the Grimsby-Meadowhall/Sheffield traffic has always been fairly brisk. In spite of what some pundits believe, adding another train crossing from East Coast Mainline from Northeast to Southwest at Doncaster does not seem to be an option, even though there will shortly be a third fast Manchester-Sheffield path available. So Northern Lincolnshire looses out again, having lost its through services to the East Midlands and London with privatization in the 1990s, and North Transpennine Electrification proceeds as the usual 'bean counter project' within the great tradition of British electrification schemes.

Electrification in England
Suburban electrification in England has a long history starting with the Tyne electric scheme in 1904-06. This was followed by a host of small scale projects around Liverpool, Manchester, and London between 1907 and 1930. However, mainline electrification was slow in coming mainly due to the complex traffic patterns in Britain, and the inherent conservatism of railway managers.

The first major project was the main Sheffield - Manchester line over Woodhead was proposed for electrification by both the GCR and the LNER, but was only approved at the third attempt in the late 1930s. It was electrified on the 1500V DC system, as the first stage of a much bigger project, but it was 1954 before this project was finished. The original intention had been to follow this up with the electrification of the East Coast Mainline south of York, but that scheme was shelved during WW2, leaving Woodhead isolated as the technology moved on.

By the time the Woodhead project was completed, Britain was in the process of adopting 25kV AC as its standard overhead electrification system as being both cheaper and more efficient than 1.5kV DC. After the initial pilot schemes between Morecambe and Lancaster, and London and Shenfield, the first major 25kV scheme was the London - Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool scheme of the early 1960s. This was expanded to Preston in 1972, and Glasgow in 1974, but this scheme was done somewhat on the cheap, with no wires for the routes taking train north out of Manchester and Liverpool to Scotland - a parsimonious policy that was to be followed on all subsequent electrification scheme.

Wires on the East Coast followed in 1991 again with some notable gaps, then to Norwich in 1994, with various small fill-in projects taking place. Extensive suburban electrifications have taken place in Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham, but there are still large areas of Britain with dense traffic where diesel is likely to be the main traction source for at least another generation.

The present NTP scheme seems to follow in this penny-pinching tradition, but it is to be hoped that within a few years pressure from Hull and East Riding Councils, Hull Trains and rail users in the area will bring about an add-on electrification between Selby and Hull. In the meantime, they are in the process of creating an enormous dog's breakfast for medium and long distance travellers between the Northeast, North Lincs., Yorkshire, and Lancashire.