The battle to keep the West Coast Main Line operating
Since this article was written there have been further problems on the West Coast Main Line (December 12) between Rugby and Northampton causing major delays for passengers.
HS2 opponents would like to see enhancements to the West Coast Main Line. In a series of articles Alan Marshall takes a look at the difficulties in keeping the existing infrastructure operational……..
WHILE opponents of HS2 continue to call for enhancements to the existing West Coast Main Line instead of building a new line, the real problems of keeping even the existing infrastructure in operational condition have been starkly revealed by a special study led by Virgin Trains’ Chief Operating Officer, Chris Gibb — including the likely need to close most of the route between London and Watford during Saturday and Sunday nights for up to ten years.
Mr Gibb undertook his study while on secondment to Network Rail, reporting to a Joint Board chaired by Network Rail’s chief executive Sir David Higgins, which was also attended by all the managing directors of the freight and passenger train operators using the route south of Rugby. The Joint Board has now decided to continue to meet through 2013 to continue the aim of improving performance of all trains using the 82.5-mile Rugby-London Euston route.
Chris Gibb reveals major difficulties with maintaining a reliable railway, which is already the busiest mixed-traffic trunk line in Europe and on which both Virgin Trains’ and London Midland’s punctuality remains around 10 per cent below target. In the last recorded four-week period (to 10 November 2012) only 83.2 per cent of Virgin Trains services reached their destinations within 10 minutes of schedule, and only 82.7 per cent of London Midland trains were within five minutes of time. The average for the rest of the national network in the same period was 90.5 per cent.
David Higgins has already talked to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee about how the WCML south of Rugby is being “pounded” and has also said the route will be “trashed” by the time the first stage of HS2 is due to open in 2026.
Chris Gibb’s report highlights many of the factors behind Sir David’s concerns — among them the physical difficulties that engineers encounter in trying to gain access to maintain and repair a railway built 175 years ago, largely through open countryside then but which now passes through many developed and densely-populated areas. Yet opponents of HS2 continue to advocate enhancing the route through such areas!