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26 November 2010 | Lindsay Clark
The UK government has inched closer to concluding the long-running procurement of a multi-billion pound replacement for the nation’s ageing intercity train fleet.
Transport secretary Philip Hammond said yesterday that he had whittled the options down to two technical systems for the procurement of the Intercity Express Programme, which was launched by the previous government.
It follows a delay in July because of “concerns about Labour’s announced new carriage procurement programme”, Hammond said at the time. He then added: “Since that announcement was made in 2007 the growth in passenger numbers has not materialised and costs have soared, leaving Labour’s plans in tatters.”
Of the two technical options, one would create a mixed fleet: some all-electric trains, and some electric trains that are also equipped with under-floor diesel engines. The other would build a fleet of all-electric trains that could be coupled to new diesel locomotives where the overhead electric power lines end.
Agility Trains, a consortium including Hitachi and construction firm John Laing, remains the preferred bidder. The Express Rail Alliance consortium, which includes Bombardier, is still in contention.
“This is a major decision which will affect intercity rail travel for decades, and we must get it right,” Hammond added yesterday.
A final decision will be announced next year.
Progress on the Intercity Express Programme came as government announced multi-billion pound railway investment. London’s north-south Thameslink line will get a £6 billion upgrade. And rail electrification projects of lines between London and Didcot, Newbury and Oxford as well as between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool will see £900 million investment. This is on top of investment already announced, including £14 billion to Network Rail to support capital maintenance.
“As with Thameslink, we expect Network Rail to keep a tight rein on costs,” Hammond said.