Trains chosen to replace a scrapped £500m electrification scheme between Yorkshire and London are slower than their electric counterparts, the Department for Transport has admitted.
The Government announced last month that long-planned electrification work on the Midland Main Line between Sheffield and London originally due to be up and running by 2020 was to be cancelled.
The Department of Transport said as part of that announcement that ‘bi-mode’ trains which can run on both diesel and electric would be introduced on the line from 2022, with benefits including reductions of up to 20 minutes in journey times between Sheffield and London.
But it has now been revealed that journey time improvements will not be down to the trains themselves but instead relate to pre-planned and ongoing track improvement work.
The Department for Transport said electric trains do offer “marginally-reduced journey times” in comparison to bi-mode trains.
A spokesman said the “exact information” on the time difference between the models and electric trains was not available as the type of bi-mode trains that would be used were yet to be confirmed.
The spokesman said lower journey times would be down to ongoing track improvements to remove bottlenecks.
“The other benefits we are delivering are more seats and more reliable services. By us delivering bi-mode trains, we are saving months and months of disruptive engineering works and track replacements,” he said.
Industry experts said that bi-mode trains were heavier, less powerful and more expensive to buy, maintain and operate than their electric counterparts.
The DfT added: “We put passengers at the heart of everything we do which is why we are investing in the biggest upgrade of the Midland Main Line since it was completed in 1870, as well as delivering modern trains across the route.
“Dual electric and diesel trains will allow passengers to benefit from more seats, faster journeys and more reliable services, but without the need for as much disruptive engineering works.”
The Government is promising 1,000 extra seats per hour on peak-time trains into London, over 50 per cent more than currently, while the new trains are also due to have lower operational costs than the current models, some of which date back to the 1980s.
The decision to scrap the Midland Main Line electrification scheme was followed within 24 hours by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling revealing it was now also unlikely that parallel plans to electrify the Trans-Pennine route between Leeds and Manchester, running through the Calder Valley, would go ahead in full.
He said it was likely that bi-mode trains would operate on that route as well because of the difficulty of electrifying the whole of the Transpennine route - a scheme previously described by his predecessor Patrick McLoughlin as being “at the heart of our plan to build a Northern Powerhouse”.
Just days later, Mr Grayling confirmed his support of Crossrail 2, London’s proposed £30bn north-south rail line which would run on newly-built electrified tracks.
More than 55,000 people have now signed a petition calling for improved transport funding for the north.
The petition was started by the IPPR North thinktank in response to Mr Grayling’s electrification cancellation announcements, combined with his renewed support for Crossrail 2 in London.
It calls for a ‘Crossrail North’ scheme to introduce a 30-minute rail link between Leeds and Manchester, as well as providing £59bn of ‘catch-up cash’ to give the north equal investment to that which is being made in the capital.
The petition states: “This is not just a matter of fairness. Lack of government spending on northern transport is holding the whole economy back.”