Looking to the future: Britain's railways in 2016

Siemens Desiro City (British Rail Class 700) displayed at Innotrans in September 2014.
Published Mon, 2016-01-04 14:28

The New Year sees the railways — both national network and the heritage sector — facing a variety of challenges. At the start of the year, it’s an ideal opportunity to look forward to see how what may develop during the course of the year.


The first Siemens Desiro City (British Rail Class 700) displayed at Innotrans in September 2014. The first of these units is scheduled to enter service with the combined Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise during 2016. © Fly2Blue and license

On the locomotive front, undoubtedly the biggest news of the year will be the return to service of No 60103 Flying Scotsman after its lengthy restoration. Successfully steamed just before Christmas, the National Railway Museum has a programme of events planned to mark the locomotive’s return to steam, both at York and at a number of steam galas on preserved railways. The cost of the restoration and the problems encountered make the locomotive’s return to operation one of the most expensive and complex undertaken.
Other significant locomotive work during 2016 will see a number of the replica locomotives — most notably the ‘Grange’ and the ‘Patriot’ — move further towards completion.
For the preservation movement, one of the most significant events of 2016 is likely to be the extension of the services operated by the Swanage Railway through to Wareham. Although there have been the occasional through trains operated over the section south of Worgret Junction since the Swanage Railway was reconnected to the national network, the completion of upgraded signalling work means that the railway’s long cherished ambition to return to Wareham will be fulfilled. This is not the first preserved line to operate over the national network — the North Yorkshire Moors has been doing it from Grosmont to Whitby for some years — but, with the West Somerset Railway looking to reestablish a link with Taunton, it could herald progress for a number of extension projects over the next 12 months.
Towards the end of 2015 the government announced two significant alterations to existing franchises. From April 2016 Arriva Northern will take over the Northern franchise from the Serco-Abellio joint operation. As part of the franchise, the new operator is committed to the replacement of the remaining Pacer units. Arriva is ultimately a subsidiary of the German state railways, DB; towards the end of 2015 it was revealed that DB is examining the possibility of selling minority stakes during 2016 in both Arriva and DB Schenker as it looks to raise funds to support bids for franchises in Germany, having lost out during 2015 on a number of new contracts domestically.
The second replacement franchise due to start in April 2016 sees First Group take over sole responsibility for the Trans Pennine franchise; previously First TransPennine was a joint venture between First Group and the French-owned Keolis. The new franchisee will face the ongoing electrification of the route with the disruption that will cause, with work now scheduled for completion in 2023 — roughly the same date at which the new franchise will end (although the government can extend the franchise period by 12 months).
There are two other franchises or concessions to be allocated during 2016. The first of these will be that covering East Anglia, which is due to change in October. The existing franchisee, Abellio, had teamed up with Stagecoach for the new franchise bid but the UK group has pulled out of the joint venture, leaving the Dutch to go it alone. Abellio faces competition from National Express and First Group to retain its franchise.
The second of the later two is that awarded by Transport for London for the operation of the London Overground network. This operation grew considerably during 2015 when certain of the London suburban services running out of Liverpool Street — such as Chingford and Enfield Town — were transferred to the operator as was the line from Upminster to Romford. The new franchise, which is currently held by a joint consortium headed by MTR and Arriva Trains, is scheduled to take over in November 2016 with the actual announcement during the summer. There are a number of shortlisted candidates: Abellio, a Keolis/GoAhead joint venture, Metroline and MTR. The new franchise will operate through to 2023 and TfL will have the option of extending it for an additional two years.
There is also the possibility that a new franchise will be created covering Devon and Cornwall. The Department for Transport and the Peninsula Rail Task Force are currently examining the possibility of creating a new franchise for the area and will be announcing their decision in mid-2016.
In rolling stock, 2016 will see the first of the new Class 700 EMUs enter service. A total of 60 eight-car 55 and 12-car units are being built by Siemens at Krefeld in Germany for service on the combined Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise. The most recent addition to the order, announced in December 2015, was for a further 25 units — six-car this time — to replace the ageing Class 313 units on the Great Northern services into Moorgate. In all 140 units will enter service between 2016 and 2019. The new units will be housed and maintained at Three Bridges and Hornsey. The former was expanded when the then Labour government blocked some of the necessary expansion at Hornsey proposed by network Rail.
Alongside these new units, work will also be in hand in the construction of the new Class 800/801 units by Hitachi; these are due to start entering service on both the East Coast and Great Western main lines in 2017. One of the labour relations issues still outstanding at the start of 2016 was that between the RMT and Great Western Railway over staffing on the new units.
The RMT/GWR dispute is but one of a number of outstanding disputes that have been a feature of 2015 that may well rumble on into the New Year. Monday 4 January will see the cancellation of all Arriva Trains Wales services as ASLEF drivers employed by the operator come out on strike. Another dispute affecting ATW, that at Alstom’s Chester depot, was saw industrial action suspended as a result of the union recommending a revised offer to its membership. Another ongoing dispute sees RMT members taking action on the Serco-operated Caledonian Sleeper service over the state of the rolling stock used.
Another dispute, which had the effect of delaying the introduction of all-night Tube services over the Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria lines. Transport for London had hoped that these services would have been introduced in 2015 but combined opposition from the RMT and ASLEF saw the introduction deferred until 2016. With a number of issues still to be resolved, an increasing number of Londoners believe that it is now unlikely that the services will be introduced at all. If TfL’s plans do progress, it is hoped that all-night services could also be added to parts of the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines plus the London Overground (starting in 2017) Docklands Light Railway (by 2021).
If 2015 is anything to go by, then 2016 will be another interesting year on a whole range of fronts.