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Electric Spine

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Electric Spine

2012 Department for Transport plans for UK rail electrification showing Electric Spine in yellow/green.

The "Electric Spine" is the name of a rolling programme of railway electrification projects[1] in England estimated to cost £800 million.[2][3] The aim is to form 25 kV AC overhead-wire electrified links northward from the Port of Southampton to major cities in northern and central England and a dry port container terminals in the Midlands. The government wants efficient electric-hauled freight trains to compete with road haulage, and in 2012 expected the spine to be completed by 2019.[4] This will not be the case, because various works have been delayed[5] and a major constituent programme—the electrification of the Midland Main Line (MML)—has been suspended.[6]

Other works associated with the project will include gauge clearance for large shipping containers and electrified connections to adjacent electrified routes, depots and freight facilities.[4]

The north–south axis of the link leads to the spine name.


A high-capacity passenger and freight corridor will run from the south coast through Basingstoke and Reading to Oxford, where it will split. One branch will run to Leamington Spa, Coventry, and the west Midlands, and another will use the re-instated East West Rail Link to Bletchley (Milton Keynes) for the West Coast Main Line (WCML) to the West Midlands, north-west England and Scotland, and also onward to Bedford for the MML to the East Midlands, Sheffield and south Yorkshire.[1]

Constituent projects

The various projects to create the spine are at different stages of development, and will be completed at different times. The initially prioritized works are fully planned and under way as part of Network Rail's Control Period 5 (CP5) (which covers 20142019).[7] Some projects will be planned and undertaken in CP5, others will be planned in CP5 for completion in the following Control Period,[8] and some remain yet to be firmly committed to.[9]

Initially prioritized works (2014–2019)

East West Rail Link

Track improvement work (doubling) on the Oxford to Bicester Line

The rebuilt 46 mile-long[10] East West Rail Link from Oxford (via Bicester and Bletchley) to Bedford will be electrified as an integral part the Electric Spine. This will include the Oxford to Bicester Line, a rehabilitated stretch of the Buckinghamshire Railway from Bicester to Bletchley (and a junction with the WCML), and the Marston Vale Line from Bletchley to Bedford (where it meets the MML). The Bicester to Bletchley section will be double track with a line speed of 100 mph.[11] This phase is due to be completed in 2019.[12] As of April 2015 however, electrification and track upgrade of the Bletchley to Bedford section is planned but not scheduled,[9] and greater work on the East West Rail Link than that scheduled for CP5 would needed to achieve the Electric Spine.[7]

Midland Main Line

Near Felmerham
Bridges over the Midland Main Line in Bedfordshire have been replaced to allow greater clearances for electrification and larger rolling stock. Before (top) and after (bottom) the 2014 upgrade.

The electrification of the MML will be extended northward from its limit at Bedford. Bedford to Derby was originally scheduled to be electrified by 2019,[7] but the work was "paused" in June 2015 despite significant progress having already been made.[6] The electrification to Derby and beyond (e.g., from Trent Junction via Derby to Sheffield—completion originally due in December 2020[13]—and also to Doncaster—originally due June 2021) will be much delayed. On 30 September 2015, the Department for Transport announced the resumption of the work with revised completion dates of 2019 for Corby and Kettering and 2023 for the line further north to Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield.[14][15]

Bridges and other structures have been replaced to allow space for the overhead cables and also a larger loading gauge.[16][17][18][19]

Derby and Leicester station areas remodelling

Derby railway station, a junction station on the MML, will have remodelled track and signalling: trains approaching from the north will be segregated from those approaching from the south and west, thus removing the current bottleneck at the station. The work is set for completion in December 2017.[7] The MML around Leicester is also being considered for capacity-improvement works in the 20142019 period, but the plans are less well developed than those for Derby.[7]

Electrification of the Great Western Main Line and the Reading to Basingstoke Line

Catenary installation at Reading 2014.
Part of the planned-to-be-electrified Great Western Main Line (GWML) (from Reading to Didcot) will form part of the Electric Spine. The electrification of this part of the GWML will also include the Cherwell Valley Line from Didcot Parkway to Oxford, which was announced in 2009 as part of the 21st Century modernisation of the GWML.[20] A freight curve at Reading bypasses the station and connects the GWML to the Reading to Basingstoke Line (14 miles),[10] which will take the spine south to Basingstoke and onward to Southampton. The Reading to Didcot to Oxford electrification is under way and due for completion in 2016, but while the Reading to Basingstoke electrification is being planned as part of Control Period 5, As of April 2015 it has no expected completion date.[7]

Leamington Spa to Coventry line

Of the western branch of the spine from Oxford, only the Coventry to Leamington Line (9 miles)[10] is prioritized for the 2014–2019 period of works. It will be electrified and the track doubled.[7]

Required works not scheduled for 2014–2019

The northern part of the Cherwell Valley Line from Oxford to its junction with the Chiltern Main Line near Banbury is not yet scheduled for electrification, nor is the Chiltern Main Line from Banbury to Leamington Spa (Oxford to Leamington: 43 miles),[10] nor the Coventry to Nuneaton Line (9 miles).[10] The South Western Main Line, which runs 34 miles[10] from Basingstoke to Southampton and its port, is currently third rail DC electrified, and will eventually be converted to AC overhead. This test-section of re-electrification will assess the feasibility of the wider conversion of the third-rail electric network to overhead.[4] As mentioned above, electrification from Bletchley to Bedford is also not yet scheduled.


The managing director of GB Railfreight, John Smith, has questioned the prioritisation of the Electric Spine over other freight routes: "I [do not] really understand some of the details of the electric spine. We are reviving and electrifying a stretch of railway between Oxford and Bletchley that’s been out of use for 20 years, before we electrify across Suffolk [for access to the Port of Felixstowe], double the Felixstowe branch or deal with the Immingham approaches.”[21] He stated that "the majority of electrification schemes in the UK [are to] support the passenger network."[22]

Other freight companies' managers also have doubts in the project's benefit to freight transport given the lack of priority given to the lines to the major ports.[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^
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  4. ^ a b c
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ a b c d e f g
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Will East West Rail be electrified and if so, when? Will East West Rail be electrified and if so, when? Eastwest Rail: Frequently Asked Questions
  10. ^ a b c d e f
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
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  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
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