Is Harrogate’s electrification dream a rail reality?

NADV 1401205AM1 Trains. (1401205AM1)

NADV 1401205AM1 Trains. (1401205AM1)

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Commuters in Harrogate hoping for modern, electric trains will have to wait until February 2015 to discover if their rail line has been chosen for electrification.

With important issues such as train frequency, crowding, the conversion of single to double tracks, reliability, the Starbeck crossing and speed riding on the decision of the task force, electrification has become a hot topic of discussion across the Harrogate district.

MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, Andrew Jones, said that the government’s policy to improve rail transport is a welcome addition considering the problems currently facing the industry.

He said: “This will build on existing government policy.

“As a whole, our rail industry is doing really well. We’re attracting passengers but we’re having a problem with capacity as we have as many people using the rail network now as in the 1920s.”

The Northern Electrification Task Force has been deliberating since December 2013 over which northern line will next benefit from the Government’s £9.4bn rail strategy.

As part of the government’s continued rail investment, the Leeds-Harrogate-York line will be considered against rival bidders hoping to revitalise networks including Selby to Hull and Sheffield to Doncaster.

The Electrification Project

860 miles of track have been electrified across the UK as part of a government project, and many cities have benefited from a transformation of their railways.

As part of the Northern Hub project, 300km of track between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Blackpool and Leeds will also be electrified by 2020.

It is an extension of this project that Harrogate is bidding for, head-to-head with bids across the north, in areas including Scarborough and Selby.

Electrifying the Harrogate district’s key railway routes could improve services for thousands of passengers as well as provising a massive boost for the town’s tourism industry.

Brian Dunsby, Chief Executive of Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce said: “Electrification of the Harrogate line is the only way that the quality and quantity of trains between Leeds, Harrogate, Knaresborough and York can be substantially improved to match the current services on the Airedale and Wharfedale Lines.

“Such electric trains have faster acceleration and braking which means that they will provide a shorter overall journey time whilst also serving two new stations such as one at Flaxby Moor and one near the Airport.

A £93.34 million Business Case from Metro, working together with North Yorkshire County Council, Harrogate Borough Council and City of York Council has been submitted for the electrification of Leeds-Harrogate-York.

The taskforce

Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce is currently leading the charge to secure the electrification fund and a decision from the taskforce is expected in February 2015.

A number of experts from Network Rail and the Department for Transport will examine the multiple business cases alongside train operators, local authorities and the supply chain.

The taskforce is being chaired by Mr Jones and is being considered against a number of other networks who would all benefit from the improvements.

Mr Jones’ said the task force would act as the ‘voice for the north’ as they examine the business plans for routes including from Sheffield to Manchester, Warrington to Chester and Sheffield to Leeds.

Mr Jones said: “The task force last met on September 11 and progress is going well. A lot of the work we do is not just dealing with our own line but improving the whole of the north of England.

“All sorts of areas are bidding for it, partly because of the pent up demand for rail improvement and partly because demand was not being satisfied. This means we’re all trying to play catch up

“In the last four years, we have witnessed the building of bigger networks being created right around the country and now people are thinking ‘I want some of it for our area’.

During a meeting with Coun Helen Flynn at the Liberal Democrat Conference, Baroness Kramer, Minister at the DfT, outlined the process the northern lines proposed for electrification would have to go through.

Coun Flynn said: “Essentially, the Department has to assess each line on the strength of its business case, as the spending has to be strategic and represent best value for taxpayers’ money.

“I believe we have a strong business case thanks to the Chamber of Trade but there will be no special favours or hands from the task force. It just depends on how we stack up against our competitors.

Mr Dunsby, said he was ‘optimistic’ that Harrogate’s business case would be top of the list after receiving positive comments in the House of Commons.