BPT Rail Electrification Statement

When BPT was first consulted by Network Rail over 5 years ago about electrification, we:

  • Accepted that it was desirable for the line to keep up with appropriate technology and modification through electrification, but
  • expressed desire for there to be awareness and sensitivity to the heritage of the line.
  • To that end we asked at that point whether a ‘third rail’ option would be possible between Box Tunnel and Keynsham, therefore obviating the need for overhead wires.
  • We were  told that since the rolling stock had already been ordered a third rail option would not be possible. We were also told that the electrification would speed the Bath-London journey by 20-30 minutes.

After a two year gap, we then participated in a number of stakeholder and one to one consultations with Network Rail, working on the principle that electrification would go ahead with overhead wires. It was clear that Network Rail were increasingly aware  that the listed structures in Bath and the WHS and its setting would need to be respected in order to comply with statutory obligations, and we worked constructively with them and with the Local Authority to find solutions which were aesthetically acceptable and potentially more cost effective than their original proposals. The first listed building consents for the bridge treatments, using this approach, were approved last year with our support. At the same time Network Rail completed a considerable track lowering programme to facilitate movement through the listed structures on the line.

At this point the quoted time saving for Bath-London was being reduced by Network Rail. No definitive proposals have been brought forward for the treatment of the Overhead Line Equipment.

Given this past history it seems unlikely that Network Rail and the Department of Transport have only just become aware of Bath’s Cityscape. We are aware of the National Audit Office scrutiny of the escalating costs of the GWR electrification across the whole of the network (not the Bath loop) and it would seem considerably more likely that any reduction of the electrification programme of the Bath loop is primarily cost driven. By this we mean that it is the cost of electrification at all, rather than the cost of doing it well through Bath, which is likely to have driven the decision.

In these circumstances we would regret any implication that heritage considerations for Bath alone (or at all)  are the driver for the line not being modernised in an appropriate manner. Rather, it seems likely that such a decision would be based on the cost considerations of electrifying this part of the line at all, given the significant cost over-runs elsewhere on the network.  While overhead line equipment was not likely to enhance the Cityscape, several organisations were working closely with Network Rail to come up with the best solution for a modernised railway and our World Heritage City should not be used as the excuse for failure to modernise the line due to cost pressures. We would appreciate urgent clarification of the Minister’s position.




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