Shropshire-London rail link: West Coast rail line space may be found

The possibility of freeing up capacity on the West Coast Main Line is being investigated as part of efforts to reinstate a direct rail link between Shropshire and London as soon as possible.

Virgin train

The option was discussed on Monday by Richard Price, chief executive of the Office of Rail Regulation, and Shropshire MPs Owen Paterson and Daniel Kawczynski.

The idea would see some stops taken out from existing routes on the West Coast Main Line to allow it to handle the additional trains between Shropshire and London.

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Virgin Trains is hoping to start running services on the route from May next year.

It is working on a bid after an intended Christmas start for the service was vetoed by Network Rail and the ORR earlier this year on the grounds that the West Coast Main Line route is too busy and that problems with services on that line needed to be tackled before any direct link could be considered.

But Virgin believes £40 million improvements on the route, scheduled to be completed by March next year, will allow the objections to be dropped.

Mr Kawczynski said: “We discussed a number of options we can now pursue to bring the service about as quickly as possible.

"These included pressing Virgin on a number of technical issues surrounding the extension of services that currently run to Wolverhampton and Birmingham, with the second including freeing up capacity on the line by taking out stops from current routes.”

The MP said he also raised the issue of electrifying the Shrewsbury line as soon as possible.

Comments for: "Shropshire-London rail link: West Coast rail line space may be found"

Roger

Sounds like some common sense is finaly getting there.

The ultimate answer is to Electrify the Line to Shrewsbury and extend London Wolverhampton services to Shrewsbury. Simple.

Second best to use a voyager train via Wolverhampton and Birmingham down a new pathway on the WCML. No electrification required.

If the pathway can not be found on the WCML divert the train at Birmingham international down the Chiltern Main Line to Marybone or Paddington. That would require a consortium of Arriva, Chiltern and Virgin.

These trains could start from Aberystwyth or Holyhead and run through to Heathrow is required. No electrification required. Some Voyagers would need to be equipped with ERTMS glass cockpits.

Existing Holyhead slots can be used because it would be just a case of diverting existing Holyhead to London Services via Wrexham and Shrewsbury and Birmingham.

In all events, including HS2, the trains should ultimately be run to the proposed Old Oak Common station with connections to Heathrow and Crossail. Old Oak Common developements should be brought forward to link with the WCML at Milton Keynes, Chiltern via Willesden Junction, Heathrow express now and HS1 and HS2 later. Then we would be properly connected with London, Airports and the Continent by rail.

Seperately to all of the above there are two other important issues that need to raised at any opportunity.

Improving the line speed from Shrewbury to Wolverhampton.

Construction of Shrewsbury Parkway railway station. Both essential issues to improve travel times and the Parkway station to take traffic out of Shrewsbury and make it faster, easier and cheaper to use the railway. Both improve the case for the London service.

Please note Stafford has not been mentioned at all because that route would not attract the right number of passengers to justify the costs of all the other essential things.

Commentator

Roger and I regularly comment on rail service matters and I have respect for his opinions.

And yes, electrification to Shrewsbury must be pursued. Getting the wires from Oxley to Abbey Foregate isn't an issue - the challenge is Shrewsbury station, which could comprise well over 60% of the project costs because of re-signalling, track layout changes, service depot requirements and listed buildings..

However, installing ERTMS on existing 125mph Voyager units as he suggests is, at the current stage of development, almost a six figure sum for each end of each unit. It isn't just a 'glass cockpit', sorry! The only equipment so far 'proven' in service is that fitted to the 90mph Class 158 units used west of Shrewsbury. It's a bit like installing an auto-pilot on an aircraft not previously designed to have one.

Now ERTMS is 'proven' all new rolling stock procured in the UK will be ERTMS-compatible, for example the Thameslink and Crossrail stock which will have to run on "automatic" through the centre of London in order to achieve the target of a train every two and a half minutes.......

What constrains the remainder of Roger's ideas are the strict and anti-competitive rules of the franchising system. Even though a Deutsche Bahn (DB) company owns Chiltern, Cross Country and Arriva Wales, the system is so red-taped and anti-competitive that three sets of overlapping DB rights cannot be combined to get a train from Aberystwyth to Marylebone!

Unfortunately, the Department for Transport (DafT) remains wedded to the franchising system constructed by the City for the benefit of hedge funds and speculators, despite having proved that the East Coast Main Line was a much reduced cost to the taxpayer operating in public ownership.

Roger

All very appropriate comments and illustrate the complexity of the issues.

Electrification.

Taken in combination with constructing the Parkside Station the complexities of Shrewsbury Town Station can be reduced if the services are straight through rather than the complex interchange they are now. If only the main line is electrified and therefore trains terminate at Shrewsbury the electrification could be limited a few platforms. Or as I would prefer straight through routes involving rail services from the park and rides to relieve traffic on the roads. The interfaces being back down the line at the Parkway Station.

Signalling

Shrewsbury is an historic monument to railways with the largest semaphore and lever operated system in the world. We need to decide what is the future of the system. Keep it and let all drivers be reminded of their history or overlay it. That is a very different debate but not today's.

Voyagers

ERTMS retro fits are a policy issue that the Aberystwyth connection is dependant on. Will they want all new rolling stock for ERMTS lines or would they look at retrofitting. I would have thought that if any set was to retrofitted it would be Voyager for extending services out from the main lines into the lesser but still important hubs like Shrewsbury, if they are not electrified. I would be perfectly happy with restrictions to Aberystwyth pending delivery of new rolling stock but if Voyagers are to retrofitted Paddington to Aberystwyth would be a good test bed line. I wonder whether Bombardiers’ operation Thor had included ERTMS in the proposed conversion of Voyagers to insert an pantograph car mid point to make them truly dual fuel sets? For future operations beyond electrification.

Of course in theory there is no reason why the intercity DMU’s used on the Cambrian Line should not travel through to Marylebone as in interim service but I would prefer to see some 1st Class/club class/ dining facilities on a service that long but that would cut Virgin out of the franchise battle if the existing service rights were preserved in the new Virgin Franchise.

Cross franchise services

I admit that this is bluntly political and a shot at all political parties who presided over the silly franchise system designed to take the flexibility out of the railway system. That is all in the air at the moment for the WCML so there is a window of opportunity at the moment to write in our service. I would have thought that a more reliable service at half the cost would demonstrate that the system is not working and free access services are simply a fig leaf to what otherwise are monopoly services were the operator writes himself blank cheques at our expense.

Of course Electrification to Shrewsbury is the best answer, but the question is what do we do in the mean time if no new pathways can be opened on the WCML? The via Stafford solution looks very much like a proposal to meet Franchise requirements which can be quietly dropped as uneconomic after the franchise is let. It is not so important to just to get a service, it must be right service which is sustainable and which will in turn justify the electrification.