Government last night refused to commit to electrification of the Midland Main Line to Sheffield by 2023.
Speaking at a late night debate in the House of Commons, called by Nicky Morgan, MP for Loughborough, Under-Secretary of State for Transport Paul Maynard said only that electrification to Corby and Kettering would go ahead as planned. Pressed by Nicky Morgan and regional MPs from both sides of the House, Mr Maynard said track improvements to, but not through, the East Midlands, would increase capacity and improve services on the whole route.
He said further electrification would be carried out “incrementally”, refusing to be drawn on a timetable for completion. Last year, then Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, having stalled and ‘unstalled’ electrification of the line to Sheffield, said the work would be completed by 2023.
Regional MPs present for the debate included Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South), Vernon Coaker (Gedling), Dennis Skinner (Bolsover), Keith Vaz (Leicester East), Alberto Costa (South Leicestershire), Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) and Nigel Mills (Amber Valley). Sheffield and Kettering MPs were also present.
Mr Maynard said electrifying the line from St Pancras to Corby and Kettering would allow the train operating franchisee from 2018 to operate two distinct services, one electrified to Corby and Kettering and one using diesel rolling stock for more northern routes including Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield, via Chesterfield.
Scott Knowles, Chief Executive at East Midlands Chamber*, said: “Business is calling on Government to commit to electrification of Midland Main Line all the way to Sheffield by 2023 as promised by then Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin when he ‘unstalled’ the project last year.
“Unlike other lines proposed for electrification, the design and preliminary works have all been done. Network Rail had a team of highly-skilled personnel set up to deliver Midland Main Line electrification. When the project was ‘stalled’ the team was split-up and took time to reassemble when it was ‘unstalled’ again.
“The repeated delays can only increase uncertainty for business and materially disadvantage the East Midlands at a time when the Government should be doing everything it can to demonstrate confidence in UK plc through infrastructure investment.
“If HS2 is to be diverted into Sheffield city centre via Chesterfield on existing tracks they will have to be electrified before 2033. Electrifying the route through to Sheffield now will also offer improved connectivity from all our main cities to the proposed HS2 station hub at Toton.
“Midland Main Line, as Nicky Morgan said introducing the debate, has been a huge success. Passenger numbers have increased by 130% in the past 15 years and are projected to rise another 30% in the next ten years. Freight is also booming, showing a 70% increase since the mid-90s, and yet Midland Main Line has suffered from years of under-investment and is now the only non-electrified north-south main line in the country.
“To improve capacity and journey times, to maximise future connectivity between major cities and with HS2 and to help future franchisees make essential decisions on rolling stock choices to replace the 40-year-old trains currently used on the route the Government must commit to delivering Midland Main Line electrification to the previously announced timetable.
“The East Midlands has been a principal driver of the national economy, one of the leading creators of jobs and wealth, it is the spine of English manufacturing and has the largest cluster of rail-related industries in the world centred on Derby, and yet half way through the second decade of the 21st Century we have 20th Century trains running on primarily 19th Century infrastructure.
“The region needs this investment and it needs to know that the Government is committed to helping it continue to drive the national economy.”