Electrification of the railway allows for faster, greener, more reliable train journeys, improves passenger services and supports economic growth in Britain

As part of our Railway Upgrade Plan we’re working closely with the Department for Transport, train companies and other stakeholders to deliver significant electrification projects.

Benefits of electric trains

  • More capacity for passengers: more seats than diesel trains of the same length.
  • Faster than diesel trains: superior braking and acceleration make journey times shorter.
  • Quieter than diesel trains: good news for people living near the railway – our lineside neighbours.
  • Better for the environment: their carbon emissions are 20 to 35 per cent lower than those from diesel trains, and there are no emissions at the point of use, improving air quality in pollution hot spots, such as city centres.
  • Lighter: less maintenance is needed because electric trains cause less wear to the track, so the railway is more reliable for passengers.
  • Good for the economy: faster trains with more seats and better connections with previously hard-to-reach areas improve access to jobs and services, and open up new business opportunities.

What does electrification involve?

Before we can install the overhead lines needed to power electric trains, we have to make some significant changes to the rail network.

  • Bridges and tunnels might need to be rebuilt if they are too low for the overhead lines to fit under. The standard height for the wire that the electric train connects with for power is 4.7 metres.
  • Bridges also need to be made safer. The side walls of a bridge, known as the parapets, need to be made higher so a person cannot touch the overhead lines and get an electric shock.
  • Lineside vegetation might need to be cleared so that it doesn’t come into contact with overhead lines and cause a short circuit. Read more about how we manage vegetation on the railway.
  • Fencing will need to be assessed for suitability and replaced where necessary with a style appropriate to the area.
  • Platforms often need to be lengthened at stations alongside electrified lines to accommodate the longer, higher capacity electric trains.
  • Cylindrical steel piles are driven deep into the ground (piling) to hold the supporting masts that carry the overhead lines to power the new trains. 

The following video explains the process of installing piles for foundations and masts to electrify the line for the Great Western route modernisation.


When these preparation works have taken place, we can install the overhead line equipment. Most types of overhead lines have overhead conductors suspended from the trackside steel masts, which are spaced 40m to 70m along the track. A copper contact wire is suspended from the conductor to power the train.

Find out more about piling and our work on overhead line equipment