West Coast Route Modernisation

West Coast Route Modernisation

What is West Coast?

Built in the 1840s, the West Coast Main Line has developed into the UK’s busiest mixed traffic railway (responsible for 43% of Britain’s UK freight market) and is recognised as a leading European rail artery. Responsible for over 2,000 train movements each day, more than 75 million rail journeys are also made each year on the route. But despite its standing as part of the national rail network, the line has not seen any significant investment since the 1960’s, with the incredible demand on the infrastructure taking its toll. Hence the advent of the West Coast Route Modernisation (WCRM) programme - Europe’s largest wholesale rail renewal scheme and one of the most challenging projects of its kind in the world.

But a project of such scope and scale - some 1,660 track miles, 2,800 signals including 13 major junctions and 10,000 bridge spans, is not without its obstacles. Set against a backdrop of ensuring the continuation of an operational railway, engineers were severely constrained by the restrictive possession regime in place, with works largely limited to weekends and evenings. Not only was this inefficient (approximately 50% of time taken setting up and then closing down the site), but it also impeded the timely delivery of the scheme, with the introduction of a 125mph railway unavailable until Winter 2006.

Enter the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), the Government appointed body with responsibility for overseeing the operations of the national rail network. Following several months of detailed discussions with the train and freight operators and Railtrack (now Network Rail), the SRA unveiled a new strategy for the delivery of the West Coast project, replacing traditional working arrangements in favour of targeted long term engineering works along specific sections of route, providing greater efficiency, a safer working environment and increased delivery time, with a 125mph railway available to the new class 390 Pendolinos by the start of the Winter timetable 2004, from Manchester and Brimingham to London, with further incremental improvements to follow.

Of the closures, there are three of particular significance due to length/location, with two line closures in Staffordshire and Cheshire, 2003 and 2004 respectively (see full details below) and a nine day closure of the line already undertaken at Bourne End (between Hemel Hempstead and Milton Keynes) during the August Bank Holiday, 2003. Though directly affecting local commuters in these areas, the Staffordshire/Cheshire closures will have little impact upon long distance passengers outside of these areas, with diversions minimising delay. Those local services affected, as with all services affected by the delivery programme including Bourne End, will be replaced by a combination of diversionary routes and coach/bus services running in unison with the timetable, as demonstrated successfully during the first of the main closures between Colwich Junction and Cheadle Hulme (from May to early October 2003).

The West Coast Main Line runs from Euston to Glasgow Central for approximately 650km, with diverging routes Rugby to Stafford via Birmingham New Street, Colwich Junction/ Norton Bridge to Manchester Piccadilly, Crewe to Manchester Piccadilly, Wilmslow to Slade Lane and Manchester Airport, Weaver Junction to Liverpool Lime Street, and Carstairs Junctions to Haymarket East Junction (Edinburgh). The route also includes the DC electric lines from Camden Junction to Watford Junction, the branch from Watford to St. Albans Abbey and routes including Bletchley to Bedford, Stechford to Bushbury Junction via Bescot, Proof House Junction to Aston, the Soho Road Line, Portobello Junction to Wolverhampton and Bushbury Junction.

West Coast Overview

The West Coast Main Line is a principal UK railway artery serving London, the Midlands, the North West and Scotland. The modernisation of the West Coast Main Line will deliver the following enhancements:

  • 125mph route capability for tilting trains delivering much faster journey times.
  • Capacity for significantly more long distance passenger trains than today.
  • Capacity for freight traffic growth.
  • Benefits for other users of the route, such as key commuter flows, in some cases with enhanced capacity and in others with faster journey times.
  • Better and more resilient performance.
  • Improved safety measures.

The £7.6 billion project reaches its first major milestone at the end of September 2004 with the introduction of the new 125mph timetable between Manchester, Birmingham and London. Following this there will be incremental line speed improvements north of Crewe and Preston in 2005 and other additional works including the four tracking of Lichfield Trent Valley and the re-modelling of Rugby, with the project scheduled for full completion by 2009.

The West Coast Mainline is the main arterial link between England, Wales and Scotland. Over 15 million people travel on Virgin Train’s services on the West Coast route every year. It’s the most heavily-used mainline in Europe and also needs the most upgrading. We’re investing millions to create a high-speed, high-frequency service that cuts journey times and makes travelling across the UK that much easier.

On the West Coast, all eyes are on the new tilting Pendolino trains, which came into service during the summer of 2002. Pendolinos are now rolling out across the rest of the West Coast and now operate half of our services.

The West Coast Upgrade

There is currently a major split in the UK rail network, while the East Coast mainline has been properly funded allowing 140 mph intercity trains to travel along, the west coast has been starved of cash... that is until now. The map on the right shows the West Coast Mainline (WCML) in red, and the East Coast Mainline in blue (ECML). The WCML is in Britain’s busiest transport corridor which contains about 20 million people.

The route connects the major cities London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. Each of these cities has about 1 million residents, except London which has 7 million. Also along the route stations for towns and cities: Watford, Milton Keynes, Rugby, Nuneaton, Tamworth, Stafford, Crewe, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington, Wigan, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme and Carlisle. This is a four track line for most of the way south of Scotland two fast tracks and two slow tracks for both directions. The slow tracks accommodate freqently stopping passenger trains serving small towns along the way and frieght trains use the slow tracks too.
Currently class 86 and 87/90 engines pull and push trains on the west coast and are capable of 100mph (160km/h) and 110mph (176km/h) respectively, although many sections of track have speed restrictions below this. As shown below the current average speeds of trains along this track are about 75 mph (120km/h), which good steam services could have maintained in the 1940s!

Now with rail privatisation Richard Branson of the Virgin Group has decided to make the west coast into a high speed line like the east coast. This is good news, Richard Branson’s company virgin has an airline, has many megastores and outlets, and is the distributor for many videos/cassettes, so he has plenty of money to spare for the railways now.

Bringing 140mph (225km/h) to the line

A £600 million deal, which will slash rail journey times on a main London-Scotland route, was announced by Railtrack and Richard Branson’s Virgin Rail company. How it affects journey times.It will involve track and signalling improvements on the Virgin-run West Coast main line which will help to cut 90 minutes off the London-Glasgow journey time by the year 2005. The improvements will allow tilting trains using the originally abandoned advanced passenger train technology to run on the 400-mile route, first at 125 mph in 2002 and then at 140 mph in 2005. The project will be partly financed by a revenue-sharing deal between Virgin and Railtrack, although this has to be approved by the rail regulator and by the rail franchising director. The investment will enable Virgin to nearly double its service to 11 trains an hour from London’s Euston station to Scotland and will also benefit other train companies which use parts of the West Coast route. The West Coast deal is additional to the £1.5 billion Railtrack has already promised to invest in the cash-starved line.

The upgrade will include segragating the slow tracks from the fast tracks. In addition to the upgrade from 110mph (176km/h) to 140 mph (225km/h) for the fast tracks, the slow tracks will be upgraded from 75mph (120km/h) to 100mph (160km/h). This will allow other train operators with 100mph multiple units to use the slow tracks ensuring that the 140mph trains are not stuck behind slower running trains.

A total of 55 new advanced 140mph (225km/h) tilting trains will be introduced on the route in summer 2002. Together with the new Cross Country trains, the additional rolling stock will enable Virgin to increase the number of passengers it carries from 25 million today to 50 million in 2005. The Trains will be first delivered to the UK

Could Britain have done better?

Although this may seem exciting, if a brand new high speed line had been built with 200mph (320km/h) support then we could expect average speeds more like 150mph (240km/h) in which case we could have London -> Glasgow and Edinburgh down to just 2 hours 30 minutes, as well as the capability for an extra 20 trains an hour. Also double decker trains could be run which cannot be run on existing lines because tunnels and bridges are too low.

The London to Birmingham train will average a speed of 118 mph which beats the east coast’s current average speed of 112 mph so setting a new timetable record for the UK.

The East Coast for comparison
The east coast mainline is currently the fastest, most advanced railway line in the UK. Inter-City 225 trains reach speeds of up to 140 mph (225 km/h) along this, achieving very good average speeds and journey times

The London to York is currently the fastest scheduled train in the UK with an average speed of 112 mph

The average speed decreases the further north because the area below Edinburgh is very mountainous and the railways have more curves, which means the trains are limited to more modest speeds.

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