Will Trans Pennine Electrification run to time?

Completion of Trans Pennine electrification, scheduled for December 2018, might be late.

The news emerged following a recent ORR ruling against an application from open access operator GNWR. The company wants to run services on the West Coast Main Line between London, Leeds and Blackpool (and 15 intermediate stations).

The ORR judgment noted: “The original 2018 completion date for (Trans Pennine) electrification is now unlikely to be deliverable and there are uncertainties around the scope, timing and cost of the project still to be resolved. We discussed the key issues with GNWR and Network Rail. Network Rail confirmed that there were issues with the deliverability of the project that would be clarified over the next 12 weeks (ie Q1 2015).”

GNWR (Great North Western Railway) is a subsidiary of Arriva-owned Alliance Rail Holdings Ltd: It applied for firm rights to run six daily off-peak return trips from London Queens Park to Blackpool North from May 2017, and for the same number of trains to Leeds, via Crewe, Manchester Victoria and Huddersfield, from December 2018. GNWR also applied for contingent rights to run between Queen’s Park and London Euston (to meet uncertainty caused by HS2).

Network Rail supported the application; eight new six car Pendolino sets would have provided the service, and it was to have run till 2027.

However, the ORR ruled the GNWR application had failed to meet its crucial NPA (not primarily abstractive) test of 0.3 to 1: “We would not be expected to approve applications that did not generate at least 30p of new revenue for every £1 abstracted from existing services.”

The NPA is a complicated five stage process involving MOIRA and other complex forecasting modelling techniques; GNWR submitted a base timetable in July 2014 and a revised one in November 2014. But none of the permutations tested met the NPA threshold; the results ranged between 0.16, 0.25 and 0.28.

“GNWR would need to generate an additional 140 passengers per day (based on its baseline timetable) and 35 additional passengers (based on its revised timetable), each paying a return fare of around £70 to bring the NPA ratio midpoint to 0.3,” the ORR argued.

“The ORR is supportive in principle of open access, which reflects our duty to promote competition. But we must also consider our other duties, including having regard to the funds available to the Secretary of State in relation to railways…

“The DfT told us it was concerned that GNWR’s proposed services would undermine the business case for expanded Trans Pennine investments it was now considering with Network Rail. In particular, it suggested the benefit: cost ratio of the wider project might fall from 2.12 to between 1.34 to 1.4 were GNWR to run services between London and Leeds rather than a  DfT franchisee running an alternative service between Manchester and York. Our analysis shows GNWR services would abstract revenue from franchised services (mainly Virgin Trains, Northern and Trans Pennine Express). In all estimates, over half of the abstraction would come from Virgin Trains.”

Diesel trains like FPTE's class 185s will continue to operate most of the trans-pennine inter-city services for the time being.
Diesel trains like FPTE’s class 185s will continue to operate most of the trans-pennine inter-city services for the time being, like this one at Huddersfield.

664/Jan 15






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