Mr McLoughlin and the West Coast Main Line

This post was first published by 51m

Patrick McLoughlin was interviewed on BBC News yesterday morning.

One of his comments returned to a theme that first saw the light of day in 2013 concerning the West Coast Main Line. “We’ve already spent £9 billion on the last West Coast upgrade but that didn’t finish the job. The overhead wiring is getting on for 50 years old.”

The Secretary of State continues to divide expenditure on the line in terms of north and south of Rugby.

So, what is the evidence?

Apparently none because as the Department for Transport stated in 2006, most of money spent on the West Coast modernisation was on (deferred) renewals, not enhancements. And in 2014, the Department for Transport averred

  • it does not hold information on the age of overhead lines, but the West Coast Modernisation “renewed most of the wiring where line speeds were increased and improved the power feeding arrangements”
  • “£9bn was spent on the whole of the West Coast Project between 1998 and 2008. The Department does not hold information on the split of expenditure North and South of Rugby”.

Most of the cash was spent on unavoidable renewals. The distinction between enhancements and renewals is important when considering the value for money and disruption effects of upgrading existing infrastructure. Upgrading the WCML is vastly more cost-effective, and less disruptive, than building HS2.

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