Business and transport bosses in the East Midlands have given a lukewarm welcome to the extension of rail electrification to Market Harborough in Leicestershire, with one describing piecemeal electrification as a false economy.
In a written parliamentary answer, rail minister Andrew Jones told local MP Neil O’Brien: ‘Network Rail has been instructed to design an extension of electrification infrastructure from Kettering to Market Harborough station, as part of the Midland Main Line enhancements programme.’
In 2017 transport secretary Chris Grayling controversially cancelled a number of rail electrification projects, including extending the Midland Main Line north of Kettering.
He claimed that the use of bi-mode trains, which use diesel where electricity is not available, would bring the benefits of electrification without the disruption of converting the infrastructure.
Mr O’Brien said: ‘If rail electrification is extended north to market Harborough that will mean these bi-mode trains can run through the town in their quieter and cleaner electric mode.’
However, Scott Knowles, chief executive of the East Midlands Chamber (of commerce), said that while the move made ‘some sense’, under the current plan, 'we’ll have 85 miles of clean, green, quiet, electrified line, 65 miles of diesel-running and then switch back to electricity for 22 miles north of Alfreton, where HS2 will cut in to serve Chesterfield and Sheffield'.
He asked: ‘Why not electrify the entire line, as recommended by the Transport Select Committee and originally planned before Chris Grayling pulled the plug, instead of having to build heavier, twin-engined, bi-mode trains that have to run under slower, dirtier diesel power to serve Leicester, Nottingham and Derby?'
‘Derby, Nottingham and Leicester all have clean air targets but won’t be getting the help they need from Government to meet them.’
He added: ‘The whole concept of partial electrification is flawed and a false economy in the long-term, especially as so much work has been done already to accommodate electrification along the entire route.’
Maria Machancoses, director of sub-national transport body Midlands Connect, said the move was ‘the first step towards giving the East Midlands the transport infrastructure it deserves’.