Memorandum by West Coast Rail 250 (REN
RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND
1.1 West Coast Rail 250 is a campaigning
group representing many local authorities and other public and
private sector organisations from the communities served by the
West Coast Main Line. It works closely with All-Party Parliamentary
Group on the West Coast Main Line towards a common aim of the
upgrading of the route as a wholeseen as essential to the
social and economic well-being of the communities which are served
directly or indirectly by the route.
1.2 With many members in the North West,
including both PTA/PTEs and all three shire counties, the very
strong interest of West Coast Rail 250 in the West Coast Main
Line is addressed not only to that part of the route with the
region itself, but also in those parts which provide vital access
to the region, particularly that part of the route south from
2.1 The Committee will be aware of the current
review being conducted under the leadership of the Strategic Rail
Authority into the future of the West Coast Route Modernisation
project. West Coast Rail 250 had been pressing government and
other agencies for a complete upgrade of the route since formation
of the campaign in 1992, and, as a result of a major study commissioned
by the campaign in 1995, regards the subsequent commitment of
Railtrack and Virgin Trains to their proposed upgrade of the route
as a very substantial achievement. However, West Coast Rail 250
has followed the appalling management and rapidly escalating costs
of the project with horror. It has seemed to us that it has only
been in the last two years that the project was being pursued
with a real sense of commitment and direction.
2.2 West Coast Rail 250 has not opposed
the current review or a full and proper study of the potential
capacity of the routethough it is very disappointed that
circumstances have been allowed to deteriorate to the situation
where this became necessary. We have engaged in discussions with
all the main parties involved, particularly with the Strategic
Rail Authority and Railtrack, to understand the process, and to
press the needs of the regions which are served by the route,
including the North West. North West supporters of West Coast
Rail 250 are, however, increasingly concerned that the outcome
of the review will fall seriously short of meeting the needs of
the region. Rail services need to develop over the next decade
to make a much improved contribution to relieving the growing
pressure on all types of transport capacity within, and providing
access to, the region.
2.3 West Coast Rail 250 had been in discussion
with the Strategic Rail Authority about the need for a capacity
study of the West Coast Main Line for some months before the placing
of Railtrack in railway administration, and the resulting start
of the current route capacity review which the SRA are now leading.
Those parts of the West Coast Main Line network within the North
West fulfil several functions in the region.
2.4 The main spine, Stafford-Crewe-Carlisle,
not only provides access to the region for long-distance services
from London and other parts of southern England, but also acts
as a vital local line linking major towns within the region, some
directly on the line, such as Crewe, Warrington, Wigan, Preston,
Lancaster, and Carlisle, but also others off route, but for which
the WCML is a vital part of the regional rail network for intra-regional
movements. These include the two major conurbations centred on
Manchester and Liverpool, plus the East Lancashire towns, the
Fylde coast including Blackpool, plus Morecambe, Barrow-in-Furness,
Kendal and Windermere.
2.5 Those routes which may be regarded as
branches off the main central spine, but which provide access
to the main route from Manchester and Liverpool, include the two
routes south from Manchester, one via Macclesfield and Stoke-on-Trent
and the other via Wilmslow to Crewe, and the line from Liverpool
to Crewe. These carry long distance passenger and freight services
to London, the West Midlands and the south, and also a heavy commuter
3. THE ISSUES
3.1 The section of the West Coast Main Line
from Crewe to Gretna Junction, on the Scottish border, presents
a range of questions about its ability to handle the increased
levels of traffic which are likely to be seeking paths over the
route within the next five to 10 years and more. This section
of line is extremely complex with many junctions, mostly on the
level, and frequent changes from two to four tracks as it passes
through Cheshire and South Lancashire, becoming almost entirely
a two-track railway north of Preston. On the northern section,
through Cumbria, severe gradients emphasise the operational problems
of working both 60 mph freight and 125 mph passenger trains over
the same track. Some (only) of these points of constraint on capacity
and operation are:
(a) WinsfordHartford: two track section
(b) Acton BridgeActon Grange: two
track section (eight miles).
(c) WiganCoppull: two track section
(d) Euxton JunctionPreston: trains
from Manchester have to join the WCML fast lines via a single
lead junction, with Blackpool services also having to transfer
across to the slow lines.
(e) LancasterCarlisle: two track section
of sharply curving and steeply graded track with limited opportunities
for fast passenger services to pass slower freights.
(f) Carlisle station: conflict between freight
and passenger workings.
(g) Gretna Junction: single lead junction
where two Anglo-Scottish routes join.
3.2 The principal factors contributing towards
the growing capacity problems are
(a) Virgin West Coast servicesproposed
for 2x hourly 125 mph services south of Preston and 1x hourly
north thereof from June 2003.
(b) Virgin CrossCountry servicesproposed
for 2x hourly 125 mph services south of Preston and 1x hourly
north thereof from September 2002.
(c) Projected growth in freight trafficby
80% up to 2011, and its incompatibility with a more intensive
service of 125 mph passenger trains, especially over northern
sections of the route.
3.3 A wide variety of new service aspirations
have been, or are being, considered by both train operating companies
and local authorities in North West England and South West Scotland.
Some of these have already been the subject of bids for Rail Passenger
Partnership (RPP) or other funding, and other proposals by existing
or potential franchisees have been rejected by Railtrack because
of capacity limitations. These include:
(a) CarlisleGlasgow local service.
Scottish authorities have just been awarded a grant of £90,000
from the Scottish Assembly to fund a feasibility and market study
into a local service between these two points, with new stations
possibly at Beattock and Symington. Services should connect at
Carlisle into trains to and from the south.
(b) Crewe/PrestonCarlisle local service.
Local transport authorities in North West England are anxious
to a local service of at least one train an hour between West
Coast route stations in the region. It appears unlikely that Virgin
services will provide this and proposals to extend (a) above south
of Carlisle would be an effective alternative, allowing the development
of local stations and providing a real alternative to the congested
(c) CumbriaManchester Airport. Cumbria
and Lancashire County Councils are very keen to increase frequencies
of the existing two hourly services from Windermere and Barrow.
An RPP bid has failed because of capacity constraints, and this
has also limited the scope of proposals submitted by bidders for
the TransPennine franchise which is to take over this service.
(d) PrestonManchester. GMPTE and Lancashire
CC policy aim is to achieve a 4x hourly service on this key corridor,
plus an hourly Manchester Scotland.
(e) LiverpoolNorth. Merseytravel and
Lancashire CC joint aim is for a 2x hourly service between Liverpool
and Preston calling at local stations. Merseytravel also seek
an hourly limited stop service from Liverpool into Scotland. Long-term
aspirations include better service links to Blackpool, Windermere
and Barrow, with direct services operated by multiple working
with other services north of Preston, or by cross-platform connections.
(f) SouthportCrewe. Merseytravel aim
is for through services between Southport and Crewe via Wigan,
providing direct connections into long distance services at Wigan,
Warrington and Crewe.
(g) New Stations. A number of proposals have
been put forward over the last few years for new stations to provide
access to rail services for local communities along the WCML in
the North West. If implemented, these would all place additional
demands on route capacity because of the slower speed of local
services, and the time taken to stop and restart trains.
(h) Lancaster/MorecambeLeeds. A recent
bid by a partnership headed by Lancashire CC for RPP funding to
upgrade this service from the current four trains a day to seven,
has foundered because Railtrack cannot guarantee train paths between
Lancaster and Carnforth.
(i) Freight Services. Operators are also
developing new services which are already placing additional demands
on the West Coast Main Line through the North West. This section
is vital to the ability of the railway system to reach the targets
for growth in freight traffic, providing as it does, the main
freight route between England and Scotland.
3.4 Without new measures to improve route
capacity at some of the points described under paragraph 3.2,
few if any of these proposed new services will stand any chance
of coming to fruition. The only indication received at time of
writing about capacity improvement schemes in the North West is
the possible re-instatement of a double junction at Euxton, instead
of the present single lead, though this is more likely to be benefit
to the timetabling of the new Virgin services alongside existing
levels of regional services, and on its own would probably not
provide additional capacity for expansion of the latter as described
under paragraphs 3.3 (c) and (d) above.
4. THE ISSUES:
4.1 From Manchester two alternative routes
head south towards the West Coast spine, one running via Macclesfield
and Stoke-on-Trent to join at Colwich, six miles beyond Stafford,
and the other running via Wilmslow to Crewe. These routes diverge
at Cheadle Hulme, about four miles south of Stockport, though
an alternative exists between Wilmslow and Slade Lane Junction,
north of Stockport. All this area south of Manchester is currently
the subject of an area-wide resignalling scheme which appears
to have run into serious technical problems, resulting in an extended
delay in its completion.
4.2 The principal capacity problem south
of Manchester is within the last mile of approach to Manchester
Piccadilly station where the principal route from Leeds converges,
and TransPennine trains have to cross all north-south lines to
reach platforms 13 and 14 on the far west side of the station,
from where trains can continue to Warrington and Liverpool. Both
routes also carry heavy suburban and regional commuter services,
and problems will increase from 2004 with the increase of Virgin's
West Coast services from the current one an hour to a proposed
three, and in 2003 the CrossCountry services from one an hour
to three every two hours. This route via platforms 13 and 14 at
Piccadilly is also the only access to Trafford Park Freightliner
Terminal, the principal freight terminal for the Manchester area.
Proposals for a flyover and new through platforms at Piccadilly
have not so far been viewed positively by the SRA.
4.3 South of Liverpool the route is predominantly
four-track for the 10 miles to Ditton from where it becomes two-track
to cross the River Mersey to Runcorn, and onwards for eight miles
in total to Weaver Junction where it joins the West Coast spine.
This section also carries heavy commuter and freight traffic.
Capacity constraints are such that the present capacity review
may have to consider a future rationalisation in the number of
train operators over the route.
5. THE ISSUES
5.1 Not so far mentioned in detail, but
crucial to the development of railway services between the North
West and London, is the Trent Valley line, between Stafford and
Rugby. The West Coast Route Modernisation proposed that most of
this section be re-instated to four-track, much of it having been
reduced to two, or in some parts three, in the 1970s. Also vital
on this section is the development of grade-separated junctions
at Nuneaton to the remove conflict of traffic crossing the route
from west to east, from Birmingham to the East Midlands, and freight
to the ports of Harwich and Felixstowe. The Trent Valley widening
would be the largest capacity enhancing works proposed as part
of the West Coast upgrade projectand also the most expensivein
several places requiring new land not already in railway ownership.
5.2 For some months there have been strong
indications that this widening project would not survive the current
capacity review. West Coast Rail 250 would view this outcome very
gravely, as it could only have the most serious implications for
the medium to long-term growth of rail services between the North
West and the South East regions, placing a most serious constraint
on the further development of rail services along this corridor.
It presently appears that the Nuneaton flyovers would proceed.
5.3 Recent suggestions by the SRA that a
new diversionary line could be constructed to by-pass the Trent
Valley line were therefore warmly welcomed by West Coast Rail
250. This new line could, it is understood, eventually form part
of a new high-speed line from London, but be built well before
other sections. If this is seen as an option resulting from the
current route capacity review, West Coast Rail 250 will be pressing
for it to be constructed as soon as possible, and certainly by
2010 at the latest, to relieve the capacity problems on this crucial
section of route for access to the North West of England.
6. THE RAILWAY
6.1 Not directly related to capacity issues
is the question of how well the railway in the region works as
a network. The Strategic Rail Authority needs to take a strong
lead on policies for providing and maintaining connections between
the services of the various operators, particularly between Virgin
main line and the services of regional companies, but also between
the various types of services worked by the latter. The lack of
such a policy, and the present system which penalises train operators
for late running even if this in only by a few minutes waiting
for a connecting service, destroys passenger perception of a single
integrated railway, and leads to a view that trains are operated
more for the convenience of the train companies rather than the
passenger. A lead from the SRA is needed not just on this as an
operational issue, but also on the development of a hierarchy
for the provision of connections in terms of their importance
at all key interchanges in the region. Without urgent action these
issues are likely to become more acute with the imposition of
a new operator working TransPennine services across the region
in the near future.
5 June 2002