Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by West Coast Rail 250 (REN 12)

RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND

1.  INTRODUCTION

  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 whole—seen 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 Crewe.

2.  BACKGROUND

  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 route—though 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 traffic.

3.  THE ISSUES (A): THE MAIN SPINE

  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)  Winsford—Hartford: two track section (five miles).

    (b)  Acton Bridge—Acton Grange: two track section (eight miles).

    (c)  Wigan—Coppull: two track section (eight miles).

    (d)  Euxton Junction—Preston: 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)  Lancaster—Carlisle: 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 services—proposed for 2x hourly 125 mph services south of Preston and 1x hourly north thereof from June 2003.

    (b)  Virgin CrossCountry services—proposed for 2x hourly 125 mph services south of Preston and 1x hourly north thereof from September 2002.

    (c)  Projected growth in freight traffic—by 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)  Carlisle—Glasgow 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/Preston—Carlisle 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 M6 motorway.

    (c)  Cumbria—Manchester 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)  Preston—Manchester. GMPTE and Lancashire CC policy aim is to achieve a 4x hourly service on this key corridor, plus an hourly Manchester — Scotland.

    (e)  Liverpool—North. 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)  Southport—Crewe. 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/Morecambe—Leeds. 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: (B) SOUTH FROM MANCHESTER AND LIVERPOOL

  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 (C): RUGBY TO STAFFORD

  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 project—and also the most expensive—in 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 AS A NETWORK

  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.

Peter Robinson

Campaign Co-ordinator

5 June 2002



 
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