Long-promised electrification of line between Kettering and Market Harborough to kick off on Christmas Eve, but government’s scaled-back rail vision continues to face criticism

Work to electrify the rail line between Kettering and Market Harborough is primed to start on Christmas Eve, as part of the government’s plan to “set the starting gun” for quieter trains, greater decarbonisation, better connectivity and more services on the Midland Main Line, it confirmed yesterday.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said work on the project would kick off on 24 December, marking the beginning of its Integrated Rail Plan, its scaled-back blueprint for rail investment in the North and Midlands published late last month.

It said the electrification works would reduce the use of diesel trains, and lay the foundation for the more extensive upgrades to the Midland Main Line, up to Sheffield and Nottingham.

In addition, work to speed up electrification, resignalling, and track renewal of railway running between Manchester Victoria and Stalybridge is schedules to take place over Christmas and New Year, which the government said would help deliver faster, more frequent and more reliable trains into Greater Manchester.

“Last month, I promised we would get on with delivering the Integrated Rail Plan by Christmas and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. “Today marks the beginning of a transformation of rail journeys for the Midlands and the North, where we will slash journey times and build better connections between towns, cities and everywhere in between.”

However, the announcement comes as the government faces criticism over its plans for railways in the UK, after it last month controversially revealed plans to scale back its vision for Northern Powerhouse Rail and ditch the previously proposed eastern leg of HS2.

It is also facing mounting pressure to clarify its plans for rail electrification, after reports emerged last week that the Treasury had scrapped a £30bn plan to electrify 12,500km of track over the next 30 years on cost grounds. Meanwhile, the largests rail fare hike in nine years is expected to come into force from March next year.

The government has touted the £96bn Integrated Rail Plan as the “biggest ever government investment in rail” and has argued the proposals will deliver improvements to North and Midlands quicker than previous railway investment plans.

But the proposals have met with fierce criticism from campaigners and local authorities in the North of England, who warn that scaling back rail investment and hiking travel costs risks slowing the development of one of the UK’s least carbon intensive forms of long distance travel. They have pointed out that electrification of the Midland Mainland line is a promise that dates back to 2013, warning that the current pace of electrification falls drastically short of levels required to deliver a net zero emissions railway by 2050.

Network Rail calculates that 13,000 kilometres of railway across Britain must be electrified by mid-century, meaning that some 448 kilometres of railway would need to be converted annually in order to reach net zero by 2050, industry leaders estimate.

Approached by BusinessGreen for clarification on its plans for rail electrification yesterday, a DfT spokesperson declined to confirm or deny recent media reports that its Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS) had been ditched.

But the spokesperson insisted the “whole government” was committed to decarbonising the railways, and pointed out that 800 miles of track had been electrified since 2017 in the UK. “As set out in the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail and our Transport Decarbonisation Plan, this government plans to make the railways the backbone of a cleaner, more environmentally friendly and modern public transport system across the country,” they said.

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