Why Should We Electrify the Rail Network?


The railway network in Britain is a cause of many arguments.

There are those that would see nothing bad said against them, citing excellent journey times, incredibly scenery and the ability to travel vast distances quickly and efficiently.

However, there are others who point out the almost prohibitive cost of travelling at peak times, empty coaches during off-peak times, standing-room only on busy routes and the propensity of some rail companies to cancel trains rather than have late ones on their record.

Whichever side of the fence you sit on, pretty much everyone can agree that it needs a real overhaul, though.

Investment has been lacking, and it shows in some key areas.

And so, billions are now being spent on electrification. But why?

The Environmental Issues

Diesel is not good for the environment; we all know that. For a while back in the 90s, there seemed to be a push to get everything running on diesel and it was seen as the wonder-fuel when compared to leaded. Of course, diesel has a lot of other things in it that are just downright poisonous.

And, seeing as we were driving diesel cars, diesel trains didn’t really register as a bad thing.

But we now know they’re very bad indeed, and also dirty, hard to maintain and expensive.

A diesel train, for example, costs 60p a mile to maintain. A train running on an electrified line only 40p. That’s a huge difference.

Of course, there’s the old argument (which I’ve used myself), that the most efficient way to convert fuel to motion is in the device itself. However, the fuel cost per mile for diesel is also more than for electric.

And of course, we can compare the environmental impact of trains v planes.

A plane flying from Manchester to London will create around 250g per passenger of CO2, only 50g for an electric train.

Short-term costs, Long-term benefits

The cost, however, is enormous.

Ignoring the billions being invested in HS2, the cost to just electrify the railways was thought to be in the region of £5 billion, although these costs are likely to increase.

Even so, the savings for the future are vast, and they also bring the ability to raise capacity so even more travellers can be accommodated and the frequency of trains increased on the main lines.

All in all, rail electrification is not only seen as a good thing for the UK and of vital importance to the environment, but it’s also probably an essential path towards making rail viable for the future of Britain.