Sheffield MPs Clive Betts and Paul Blomfield joined together in the House of Commons today to challenge Transport Secretary Chris Grayling on the decision to scrap electrification of rail services to Sheffield, following a damning report from the National Audit Office.
Mr Betts highlighted the report’s conclusion that the bi-mode trains, which the Government claimed would be used in place of electric engines, had not been developed to meet the specific requirements of the Midland Mainline. He said:
“The NAO produced a report on the 29th March, and I just quote from it, in the case of the Midland Mainline bi-mode trains with the required speed and acceleration did not exist when the Secretary of State made his decision and the department had informed him of this. So why in his Written Statement did he promise to deliver bi-mode trains which he knew merely did not exist but that were not even being developed?“
After Transport Minister Jo Johnson replied that such trains were already in use on the Great Western Mainline, Mr Blomfield repeated the challenge, pointing out that the requirements of the Midland Mainline were different and went on to highlight the National Audit Office findings on the cost and emissions from the bi-mode alternative, saying that the Transport Secretary knew that:
“Bi-mode trains are a poorer investment case than electrification, would be worse polluters – actually emitting 25 times more carbon - and that the required rolling stock may not even exist. Yet none of that information was in his statement to the House cancelling electrification"
Transport Minister Jo Johnson’s claim that “equivalent trains to the ones which will be in service are already in operation. As I just said, bi-mode trains that are capable of running at more than 120 mph in diesel mode are already now in use on the Great Western Mainline” met an angry response from MPs.
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald, then joined the debate saying:
“The Secretary of State said in the Summer Recess that the bi-mode alternatives could achieve the same significant improvements to the journeys. The NAO has said that those bi-mode trains with the required speed and acceleration to meet the timetable did not exist. Those two statements are mutually exclusive. It’s important that Ministers of the Crown come to the despatch box and say things that are founded in fact.”
Speaking after the debate, Mr Betts said:
“The frequent curves on Midland Mainline require greater acceleration to maintain overall speed. No bi-mode trains can achieve this and it has now emerged that the Transport Secretary knew that all along.”
Mr Blomfield added:
“It’s simply not acceptable that crucial facts were withheld from Parliament when the Transport Secretary announced he was scrapping electrification. We’ll continue to press him to reverse the decision.”
On 20 July 2017, Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling announced that the Government were cancelling longstanding plans to electrify the Midland Mainline beyond Kettering and would instead be using bi-mode trains. His statement is available here.
The National Audit Office (NAO) report, published on 29 March 2018, is available here.