In July, just as the Commons broke up for summer recess, the government announced it was cancelling two railway electrification programmes: in the East Midlands and in South Wales.
The programmes were more expensive than had been planned, and so the government chose instead a solution of “bi-modal” trains. That is, trains with both electric and diesel power sources.
Electrification means cleaner and faster trains. They accelerate and decelerate more quickly so on local routes with lots of stops they are more efficient, meaning you can fit more trains into the schedule.
And because diesel trains are much heavier they cause much more wear and tear on the track, so requiring more closures for maintenance.
When the East Midlands and South Wales cancellations were announced, that had consequences for us too. Because we were also on the list for electrification: the Line from Crewe to Chester and on to North Wales, and the line from Chester to Warrington and on to Manchester both need to be upgraded to give us better trains and more capacity. Ask anyone who commutes to Manchester how bad and how expensive the service is.
No wonder the M56 gets so clogged up every day when the train service is so unreliable.
The government’s decision has another consequence. For electrification to happen, lots of upgrades have to happen round Chester station. One of these is Hoole Bridge. It’s too low to take electric wires underneath it, so it would need to be raised.
But since we need a new Hoole Bridge anyway we planned to kill two birds with one stone and have that done as part of the electrification scheme. Pedestrians and cyclists don’t feel safe on Hoole Bridge and because it isn’t big enough, it’s a block to economic growth from both roads and railways.
So a national decision to cancel railway upgrades elsewhere in the country has major implications for us locally here in Chester.
We haven’t given up. The Growth Track 360 Rail Taskforce is a cross party and cross border alliance of local authorities and business leaders which lobbies hard for the crucial investments needed on our railways. It’s chaired by our very own Cllr Samantha Dixon. With the group, Samantha and I are pushing for a new solution to the Hoole Bridge problem separate from the electrification plans.
At the General Election, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling came to Chester, stood on Hoole Bridge and said he would look for a solution. Samantha and I are working hard to keep him to his word.