The ILT Scottish Region welcomes the initiatives taken by the Strategic Rail Authority in getting the West Coast Main Line (WCML) upgrading on course to deliver an improved railway. We are disappointed that the objective of raising line speeds to 140 MPH has been abandoned, but recognise that the approach taken has led to a multi-purpose railway with significant opportunities for freight growth.
Infrastructure Maintenance and Renewal.
It was a surprise to read that there had been major neglect of the infrastructure over a long period. The WCML was handed over to Railtrack in 1994 without any temporary speed restrictions, suggesting that maintenance had been carried out in an appropriate manner. That renewals were due is undeniable. Much of the signalling and overhead line equipment south of Crewe was approaching 40 years old, which was its life expectancy. It is noted that there is no mention of renewals of these items north of Crewe which is to be expected given its more recent construction. The upgrade is going to cause more disruption than expected, given that high output renewals equipment has been procured by Railtrack and its contractors. Is this equipment meeting expectations?
No mention is made of a long-term maintenance strategy. In the interests of infrastructure users and their customers it is essential that this is developed with rules of the route determining "white" periods. These must take account of the need to provide an infrastructure that remains fit for purpose and the demands of the markets served by rail. We do not believe that it is the interests of any of the railway stakeholders to imply that a 24/7 infrastructure is sustainable. Locally in Scotland, some of the signalling, power supply and overhead line equipment is about 40 years old, notably in the Motherwell and Glasgow Central areas. It is to be hoped that their renewal will be planned to a time-scale that ensures that improvements in the south are not negated for Scottish customers by later disruption on our doorstep.
We welcome the attention now being given to the provision of realistic diversionary routes. This provision needs to be given strategic consideration across the network. For example, it is not in the interests of rail users to have both the WCML and the East Coast Main Line (ECML) closed simultaneously. This is of particular relevance to freight and to the provision of a reliable 6 day sleeper service between Scotland and London. In the same way as freight paths have been developed for the upgraded WCML, it is surely possible to develop two reliable ECML paths giving a 7-8 hour transit from Edinburgh to London.
The use of diversionary routes, in some cases provided by alternative operators, raises questions of inter availability of tickets. The franchised operators have proved themselves to be adept at the "ORCATS" game of providing low cost single operator tickets. To ensure that passengers are not forced into expensive add on fares when certain routes are not available, this issue will have to be addressed. Failure to do so will drive passengers away to the detriment of all operators. There is a need to ensure that the diversionary routes have a maintenance and renewal regime which permits them to carry perhaps significantly greater tonnages without deterioration.
As stated above we welcome the attention given to the provision of freight paths throughout the day on the WCML. The higher speeds being demanded may encourage more high value goods onto rail form logistics companies. It has to be recognised, however, that not all freight falls into the high speed, high value category. Mention has been made of coal flows and other bulk products will still use rail. Indeed they must if Government targets for rail borne freight are to be achieved. Where this type of traffic is diverted off the WCML, it is essential that the routes used are maintained to an adequate standard for the tonnage and axle-loads involved and have adequate capacity. Similarly, freight must not be disadvantaged by a more restrictive loading gauge on the alternative routes. This may require complementary investment in routes such as Gretna Junction to Glasgow via Dumfries and the Settle to Carlisle line. We look forward to the production of a freight strategy in the near future.
The first item to record is our disappointment that the timing to Glasgow from London is to be 293 minutes form late 2004. This is only 7 minutes faster than the 1974 time achieved on a railway with 100 MPH as the line limit, albeit with less stops. Even the long-term aspiration of 260 minutes is disappointing. The ECML achieves London to Edinburgh in 4 hours without tilt on a route only 8 miles shorter. The same 4 hour target should be aimed at for Glasgow.
There is a suggestion in the paper that an hourly Glasgow to London service may sacrificed to allow a number of trains to go to Edinburgh instead. This proposal is not supported for a number of reasons. Edinburgh already has a better than hourly service to London. Competition is virulent, notably from private transport, but also from coach and an increasing variety of airlines and further rail competition seems irrelevant. The utility of the service both to business and leisure travellers is reduced if there are long gaps as demand modelling has long demonstrated. Cross-country services are surely designed to meet the demand for travel from/to Edinburgh and the northern end of the WCML, notable the Lancashire conurbation. Adequate capacity is, of course necessary on this corridor.
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