arts and design

A new golden age of British rail depends on total electrification | Letters


I was glad to read in Ian Jack’s article (The London to Edinburgh train ride was once a thing of wonder. Can it be again?, 19 November) that, on the trains operated by Lumo in the east coast mainline, “every part of the train is electric”. Even an exclusively diesel-powered train is better for the environment than flying, but a train with no onboard engine at all is the best of all.

If only the same were true of the Azuma trains run by the line’s main operator, for it is not true of all of them. Those trains travelling through, to or from Aberdeen or Inverness – or turning off to places such as Hull – are “bi-modes”, which can take power either from electrification or from an onboard engine – a diesel one in this case, but a hydrogen or battery one would not be much better. A train engine is not like a stationary generator: being carried around means that it uses energy whether switched on or off. Carrying such an engine under the wires all the way from London to Edinburgh, for example, somewhat undermines the advantages of using electrification.

The saddest thing is that when real railwaymen ran the railways, bi-modes were experimented with and ultimately abandoned because they were inefficient. Yet they are now being used on ever more lines – the Great Western lines are one example, thanks to the electrification scheme being left unfinished. If the government is serious about the environment, it needs to resume and complete electrification schemes, and encourage operators to strip out engines.
Charles EL Gilman
Mitcham, London

Thank you, Ian Jack, for reminding us of the little sightseeing booklets that railway companies used to produce. It’s sad that many train travellers now don’t even look out of the window, but instead spend their time stroking screens. I always took my Virgin Windowgazer Guides with me on long train journeys when they were available; they were also the only good thing I ever encountered that had Virgin in its name.
Jim Grozier
Brighton, East Sussex

Ian Jack’s article reminded me of travelling between King’s Cross and Aberdeen as a student in the early 1980s, and clocking the cathedrals along the way. But how strange that he omits to mention the ecclesiastical jewel of the route, which is surely the utterly beautiful lantern tower of St Nicholas in Newcastle upon Tyne, near Robert Stephenson’s resplendent High Level Bridge.
Victoria Owens
Long Ashton, Somerset

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