The responses below are those of members of The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport(UK) Scottish Policy Group who have contributed to the discussion on The West Coast Mainline Progress Report.
The progress made on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) upgrade is to be welcomed, with passenger train frequencies and speeds improved on the principal routes accompanied by increasing market share. It is unfortunate that this has been achieved with what has effectively been a 5 day railway over a long period of time accompanied by some extremely long blockades and frequent breaches of the 12 week notice period for service changes at weekends. Despite these improvements, there is concern that a seriously depleted signalling capability between Crewe and Stockport will continue for some time to block access to Manchester Airport from the south and will also impede freight access to Manchester.
The further works outlined in the Progress Report are a welcome sign that the West Coast Route will continue to improve over the next few years with further reductions in journey times. Given the positive response by the travelling public to the improvements to date it is hoped that the rail market will be allowed to blossom further with the help of a seven day railway most of the year and strict control of blockades and possession management.
With significant work planned at Rugby and south thereof it may be worth considering an early completion at Nuneaton of the WCML to Leicester connection to allow West Coast diversions to St Pancras. This would avoid long bus journeys which are particularly inconvenient for the disabled and for those with large amounts of luggage.
The layout at Rugby is a significant improvement on the current one. The change clearly involves substantial civil engineering and signalling work. It is, therefore, slightly surprising that one terminal platform and one siding are being retained at their existing location. It is noted that the new southbound platform has a set back section as if it was intended to provide a bay platform there. With the new layout, such a bay could be accessed from both the WCML and the Northampton line (subject to the length of connections used) whereas the one retained only has access from the Northampton line.
It is noted that the contract process for the Trent Valley 4 tracking, involved detailed design followed by the letting of construction contracts. This process has, in the past, significantly reduced project risk from variations arising during the construction phase. It is hoped that this method will replace the higher risk design and build contracts that have become common recently.
It is also noted that the Manchester to Barrow/Windermere/Scotland services will be integrated with the implication that they will be incorporated into the Transpennine franchise. This seems to imply negotiating a variation to the existing franchise, a process which normally carries significant financial risk compared to an open tender for the services specified.
The proposed extension of car parking facilities at stations is welcome and it is hoped that this will be accompanied by steps to integrate train and bus services so that the benefits of the enhanced train services can be extended to the widest possible population base. It is also hoped that booking office provision will take account of the opportunities that now exist for on-line ticket purchase and seat reservation.
Sustaining the Route
The stated intention of ensuring that the East and West Coast routes between Scotland and London will not be closed simultaneously is welcomed. The need for a limited number of longer possessions north of Preston is accepted. However, there is a need to ensure that work between Preston and Carlisle and between Carlisle and Glasgow do not occur at the same time to keep diverted journey times within reasonable limits.
It is understandable that the outputs in the tables have concentrated on the to/from London market, but disappointing that little data is given for services connecting the major city regions on the WCML such as West Midlands, Manchester/Liverpool and Edinburgh/Glasgow. There is a clear recognition that service enhancements have generated traffic growth in markets such as Chester/North Wales to London and are projected to do so between Tamworth/Lichfield and London. These are likely to be relatively small markets compared to the major inter-regional markets mentioned above. Indeed, in the case of Central Scotland to Manchester there is a likelihood of extended journey times and there are still no proposals for services from Central Scotland to Liverpool or even mention of connections between them. This seems to be failing to take full advantage of the investment in the WCML and the environmental benefits which could be achieved.
We would therefore stress the need for developing services to the North West of England - Manchester in particular, from Glasgow and Edinburgh towards making rail rather than air, the main carrier. This potential should not be lost sight of in concentrating on the London market although it is recognised that this may be a matter for future franchises rather than the WCML project. The latter should however provide the infrastructure which allows the development of competitive services.
The more extensive use of Class 222 tilting DMUs on the WCML is welcomed as is the introduction of services linking growth areas such as Milton Keynes and Northampton to the Trent Valley and northwards. A similar approach is needed to the development of services between the major Cities mentioned above although there is little evidence of this in the project outputs.
The increase in freight capacity and the gauge enhancements which have taken place are worthy developments as is the design commitment to 775m loops. To minimise the impact of recessing freight trains, it is suggested that, where space exists, loops should be made at least long enough to incorporate an intermediate signal and high speed (say 60MPH) entry switches.
The intention to incorporate line speed improvements where this is feasible when renewals are carried out is noted. It is hoped that the reference to the North Wales Coast route does not imply that only routes leading to London will have such treatment. Others such as Euxton Junction to Manchester and Wigan to Liverpool are equally deserving in that they cater for equally large or larger potential markets.
There is some concern about future major signalling renewals north of Weaver Junction and the effect this may have on a continuation of the proposed 7 day railway. The equipment is now approaching 35 years old with certain areas like Glasgow Central (and Stockport) even older. It is hoped that renewal strategies will be developed which avoid multiple weekend possessions or long blockades. There must also be concern about the section of the route between Carlisle and Gretna which has no feasible diversion and may, with traffic growth, become a bottleneck particularly as it is understood that Gretna Junction is to be renewed as a single lead junction with the route to Dumfries unchanged. It is hoped that the future installation of a double junction has been protected. A single lead junction does not sit well with the proposed enhancements to the G & SW route and we therefore believe this should be reviewed.
Faced with the prospect of rising oil prices and the need to reduce carbon emissions it is hoped that consideration will be given to the extension of the electrified network, particularly where this would provide diversionary routes and increase the use of electric network by local and longer distance trains. It is recognised that this will require a long term rolling stock procurement and cascade strategy stretching beyond the WCML. Candidates for consideration, given the project outputs, must include Crewe to Chester, Preston to Manchester preferably via Bolton and Liverpool to Earlstown.
WCML developments must be considered alongside the proposals emerging for a high speed north to south route and a Continental gauge freight route. It is noted that the latter together with the WCML would provide alternative routes for virtually all types of freight vehicles from Central Scotland to the Channel Tunnel and would allow the optimisation of the WCML north of Preston for high speed passenger use.
The Institute in Scotland and elsewhere, has a particular interest in the latter and may be able to assist in the future, with the debate on how this can be taken forward.
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