HLOS SoFA and a bi-mode future?

July 20 was the deadline date for the UK and Scottish Governments publishing their HLOS  (High Level Output Specification) and SoFA (Statement of Funds Availible) for the next railway control period (CP6) between 2019 and 2024.

Neither government produced what was expected. 

The outputs specified by the Scottish Ministers were generic but highlighted failures by Network Rail in project delivery, project management and overview and the ability to deliver as promised and on time. 

The Scottish Ministers also took NR to task on asset knowledge and gauging of lines for different types of trains. The gist being that there’s nowhere near enough knowledge and resource on the Scottish network. 

Scottish HLOS
It’s on Transport Scotland website under ‘publications’.

At the time of publication of this HLOS, the UK Government has advised the Scottish Ministers of its intention to change the basis of funding for Network Rail in CP6, but the first formal proposals about how these new funding arrangements will work in Scotland were not received from the UK Government until the evening before the publication deadline of 20 July 2017. This has not left time for prudent consideration and the necessary negotiations to confirm satisfactory arrangements. Therefore, it is not possible for the Scottish Ministers to publish a Statement of Funds Available at the same time as this HLOS.

The final paragraphs indicates a fundamental change is coming to the way Railway Projects are funded and that there is a further reform or announcement to come.

The DfT published a screed of information together with the HLOS for England and Wales. 

Documents on Bi-mode trains, the East Midlands Franchise renewals and new instructions for the ORR as regulator. 

The ORR instructions were detailed requests for a new way to oversee the maintenance of the railway and to place measures of activity and measures to oversee issue flagged by passenger focus as the consumer or travellers champion. It takes the railways of England and Wales closer to the Scottish SQUIRE regime.

The trumpeting of bi-mode effectively curtails further electrification of the network in England and Wales after existing projects are concluded. 

This is the result of delays increased costs and other issues in electrifying the Great Western Route. Further extension from Cardiff to Swansea is  ruled out. The Midland Mainline to Sheffield will see bi-mode trains and revised Service patterns 

We are unlikely to see the transpennine routes electrified further and It means further electrification of freight routes are unlikely.

Overall it means that once the SoFA for England and Wales is produced in October that Scotland’s SoFA will be proportionately affected.

The EGIP project was a matter I was going to blog about and particularly in terms of appearances by the Network Rail chief at a recent Scottish Parliament meeting. 

The feeling that I had was that EGIP has spiralled away in timescale and cost despite items being removed. 

A significant factor is the SDA project for the Stirling, Dunblane and Alloa section of Electrification being a different team to the ‘main job’. 

We were told of a limited service initially over EGIP but it looks more likely that October 2017 will see a bigger introduction of the class 385 units.

The potential for cascading diesel units in Scotland can then be realised.

The other Scotrail Big Bang of the HST’s from Glasgow and Edinburgh northwards now seems wise. Refurbishing the carriages has been done effectively elsewhere and the engines have already been renewed, although further modernisation will be welcome.

Bi-mode will come soon, the Hitatchi produced Class 800 units are regularly under test, production is progressing. It’s easy to say it’s unproven but they have run on Diesel and under the wires regularly. 

It’s not likely that squadron service will see any failure. England and Wales will see the trains improve the offer on mainline routes.

The Midland Mainline is likely to follow with new bi-mode trainsets and for services into the Lake District, refurbished class 319 sets are most likely to operate.

Dirty Diesel remains the issue in terms of Bi-mode. It’s an environmental issue, it’s an efficiency issue as the Diesel tanks and engines are carried under the wires. 

In fairness, the Diesel capacity means units aren’t stranded if there’s a failure and it adds options to routes that are partially electrified.

Long term, bi-modes could use stored electricity batteries or hydrogen power cells as greener and cleaner power off the wires. That technology is progressing and longer term it could deliver a solution.

Politically, it removes cost of wiring up routes, perhaps transferring costs to the rail franchises and the rolling stock ownership companies. 

It maybe takes out investment from the infrastructure and whilst the DfT talk of improving signalling and the physical routes for linespeeds, Electrification ensures that it happens. 

The monitoring and oversight of improvements by Government and Network Rail will need a continual oversight and whilst the ORR and Commons Transport Committees can do so, the travelling public has a role in questioning progress.

Successive Westminster administrations have dodged investment in electrification and a move to bi-mode could be another one.

Whether Scotland follows Westminster and the DfT is questionable, the HLOS is clear in its ambition of further electrication and further reopenings through the investment pipeline. 

We don’t yet fully know what the pipeline is. I assume the idea remains of electrifying north of Dunblane, initially to Perth, if not Dundee through progressive electrification. 

It’s a guess that East Kilbride would benefit from improved infrastructure, electrification and more services. 

The North Commuter line might benefit as an infill scheme and offers operational advantages in removing stock from Queen Street.

In conclusion, it’s a switch in investment priorities in England and Wales. It’s uncertainty for Scotland. It’s a post brexit effect, questions on questions until October and the final knowledge of what will happen to Network Rail 

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