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Prime Minister urged to ‘switch on’ East Midlands by naming the date for Midland Mainline electrification

Read now: The Future’s Electric! The benefits of Midland Main Line Electrification. 

Rishi Sunak has been urged to ‘switch on’ the East Midlands rail network as fast as possible by accelerating work to electrify the region’s main link to London.

The Midland Mainline carries 3.75 million passenger journeys a year between Chesterfield, Derby, Leicester and London, but trains still have to travel on diesel power for part of the journey – impacting emissions, reliability and the time it takes to travel.

While the Midland Mainline section between London and Bedford was switched to electric power in the 1980s, the final section into the heart of the East Midlands still hasn’t been upgraded 40 years on.

Now, the region’s local authorities have come together under the banner of East Midlands Councils to call on government to name the date when work will start on a project that has been planned for years and was highlighted as a transport priority two years ago in government’s Integrated Rail Plan.

Sir Peter Soulsby, the elected Mayor of Leicester who also chairs Transport for the East Midlands (TfEM) said: “In the wake of the decision to cancel HS2, our message to the Government is simple and unequivocal – name the date for Midland Mainline electrification, sign the project off and switch on the East Midlands rail network.

“If we’re not proceeding with high-speed rail then we must upgrade our existing infrastructure as a matter of urgency. Midland Mainline will be able to offer a better service for more people on upgraded trains if the final stretch into the East Midlands is at last electrified.”

Sir Peter added: “We need to change Westminster’s attitude towards transport investment in the East Midlands. We receive too little, it takes too long, and the huge potential of our businesses and communities is not being fulfilled. This has to change if we’re to power up our future.”

As it stands, 80% of the environmental benefits of travelling by train instead of car can be lost due to the emissions from locomotives moving under diesel power. Diesel trains are also noisier, and impact air quality along the line and in stations.

East Midlands Councils has set out the case for Midland Mainline electrification in a new report called ‘The Future is Electric’. Produced by expert transport analysts, the report shows that:

  • Midland Mainline adds £450m a year to the economy
  • Passenger numbers on the line have more than doubled since the 1990s
  • Midland Mainline’s catchment is more densely populated than either West Coast or East Coast mainlines
  • But while they are fully electrified, Midland Mainline is not
  • Fully electric trains will be cheaper to operate, faster and more reliable
  • Midland Mainline’s diesel operations emit 48,000 tonnes of CO2 a year
  • Experience shows an electrification programme will benefit local jobs and businesses first

The push to speed up electrification of the Midland Mainline is being supported by East Midlands Chamber of Commerce, which represents thousands of firms across the region and is the biggest organisation of its type in the UK.

Its director of policy, Chris Hobson, said: “We cannot cancel our way to economic growth and we want to see government end years of uncertainty by committing to electrify the last leg of the Midland Mainline now. In the space of the last seven years, this project has been paused, cancelled and then revived. It needs to be delivered.

“We already have teams of engineers working to electrify the line as far as South Wigston in Leicestershire. At a time when government is concerned about funding, it would make absolute sense to electrify the next stage as soon as this work is completed so that we avoid the costs and delays involved in having to remobilise a specialist workforce.

“The decision to cancel HS2 has been a bitter blow for a region that has both rail engineering expertise and huge potential for expansion. Given the growth challenges our economy faces, we cannot afford to wait any longer for an investment that is long overdue – Midland Mainline electrification must happen now.”

Electrification of the final section of the Midland Mainline would also become part of a much wider electrically-powered rail corridor, joining up with government’s Network North plan for electrification of the Hope Valley Line between Manchester and Sheffield, the line between Leeds and Sheffield, and enhancements between Nottingham and Newark.

Sir Peter Soulsby said: “This isn’t just about the Midland Mainline finally receiving the investment it needs. It also makes strategic sense to upgrade the line so that it becomes part of a regional and national electrified rail network.”

Read now: The Future’s Electric! The benefits of Midland Main Line Electrification.