The Evolvement of Electric trains in the UK

With lots of people are nostalgic for old steam lines and their engines, electric trains have had an interesting history in the UK.

From third rail systems, which are still in operation but meeting the limit, to overhead power lines and onto the re-introduction of trams in cities like Manchester, Nottingham, Croydon and Birmingham, there is still variety of power systems.

The first electric railway in UK was the Volk's Electric Railway in Brighton which opened in 1883, and still functions to this day. The London Underground began operating electric services using a fourth rail system in 1890. Main line electrification of some suburban lines began in the early years of the 20th Century, using a variety of different systems.

In 1921 a government committee chose 1,500 V DC overhead to be the national standard, but little implementation followed and many different systems co-existed. During the interwar period, the Southern Railway adopted the 660 V DC third rail system as its standard and greatly expanded this system across its network of lines south of London.
In 1938 the Merseyrail network (running then as London Midland & Scottish - LMS) starting running the 503 EMU class electric trains, with sliding doors, which were the first in operation outside of London.

After World War II and the nationalisation of the railways in 1948, British Railways expanded electrification at both 1,500 V DC overhead and 660/750 V third rail. In 1956, British Railways adopted 25 kV AC overhead as standard for all projects outside logical extensions of third-rail systems. The 25 kV AC network has continued to expand slowly, and large areas of the country outside London are not electrified.

During 1959 - 1974 the West Coast mainline (Euston to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow & Edinburgh) was electrified with 25 kV AC overhead lines which initially allowed running at 110mph, and since the line upgrades completed in late 2008 the maximum speed has increased to 125mph for the tilting class 390 Pendolino trains and class 221 Super Voyager trains. Sadly the UK designed and built Advanced Passenger train (APT) was meant to meet the high-speed challenge with tilting trains, which ran in prototype in the early 1980s was scrapped due to government resistance.

The East Coast mainline was electrified, using 25 kV AC overhead lines in two phases between 1976 and 1991: The first phase between London (Kings Cross) and Hitchin was carried out between 1976 and 1978 as part of the Great Northern Suburban Electrification Project. The second phase began in 1984, when authority was given to electrify to Edinburgh and Leeds. Construction began in 1985, and the section between Hitchin and Peterborough was completed in 1987, Doncaster and York were reached in 1989. By 1990 electrification had reached Newcastle, and in 1991 Edinburgh.

At the peak of the electrification project during the late 1980s, it was claimed to be the "longest construction site in the world" at over 250 miles (400 km). The current InterCity 225 rolling stock was introduced in 1990 to work the electrified line.

In May 2009 Network Rail launched a consultation on large-scale electrification, to potentially include the Great Western Main Line and Midland Main Line and smaller "in-fill" schemes. Key benefits cited were that electric trains are faster, more reliable and cause less track wear than diesel trains. Since then, electrification of the Great Western Main Line has been approved; electric trains are planned to run to Bristol from 2016 and Cardiff from 2017. Electrification of the Midland Main Line, several Trans-Pennine routes and the Welsh Valleys has also initially approved, though they are budget issues in 2015, which might delay the infrastructure update.

In Scotland, where transport is devolved to the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland is extending electrification, for example, on the Airdrie-Bathgate Rail Link. This is part of a larger plan that sees many major routes in central Scotland electrified, including the main Edinburgh Waverley – Glasgow Queen Street route.

After lots of UK cities had removed previous tram and trolley-bus schemes (with a few exceptions such as Blackpool) they started to re-appear from the 1980s with systems in Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Croydon along with the Docklands light railway in London.

The Manchester Metrolink system, began with its conception as Greater Manchester's light rail system in 1982 by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive, and spans its inauguration in 1992 and the successive phases of expansion.

Phase 1 of Manchester Metrolink was created by converting existing heavy railway lines to light rail operation and laying on-street tracks across Manchester city centre to unite the lines under one integrated system. Phase 1 consisted of a Bury to Altrincham route via the city centre, with a spur to Manchester Piccadilly station. Authority to construct Phase 1 of Metrolink was granted in January 1988 with the passing of the Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Act 1988.

It now has seven lines with a network of 92 stations giving convenient and rapid access from many routes into and through Manchester city centre.

The Evolvement of Electric trains in the UK
WiderView Visual Media, Chris Roberts 27 July 2015
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