Landslip raises network questions

By Hugh Jaegar, first published Friday 6 February 2015 in Oxford Times Letters.

Sir – On February 1, a landslip at Harbury, Warwickshire, closed the Banbury–Leamington railway.

Buses replaced Chiltern and CrossCountry trains. Southampton– Midlands rail freight was diverted. This is the second railway landslip at Harbury within a year. Network Rail may wonder if it checked the site enough last time.

View of the Harbury Landslide which blocked the Chilterns Railway

Harbury Landslide

And it raises other questions about the network.

Most of Britain’s railway earthworks are at least 150 years old. Many were built with slopes steeper than is good practice today. However thoroughly Network Rail surveys them, occasional unpredicted failures must be expected.

Britain formerly had enough rail links to divert trains around most disruptions. But many, including fast main lines, were closed in the 1960s.

In a few years, Network Rail will reopen the Bicester–Milton Keynes line. This will not only reconnect Oxford and Bedford but also offer diversions for existing services, including those through Harbury.

The logical next step would be to reopen the disused Great Central (GC) Main Line between Aylesbury and Leicester, increasing capacity between London and the Midlands.

It could have junctions at Rugby, Banbury and with East West Rail to make diversions shorter and easier. It would serve Brackley and pass near Daventry.

Instead the Conservatives, Labour and Lib Dems want HS2.

This will cost far more and have no local stations or junctions. And HS2 would use about 10 miles of the former GC route, blocking the whole line from ever being reopened. It is an open goal for UKIP and the Green Party this May.

Hugh Jaeger, Oxford

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2 comments to “Landslip raises network questions”
  1. There is another point to be made regarding the Harbury closure. HS2 Ltd repeatedly said there is no spare capacity on the West Coast Main Line. Yet at a moment’s notice, the rail operators were able to reschedule all the Harbury line’s freight trains (I understand it is 48 services per day) to use the WCML route.

    • You raise a very good question,John, one that really demands an explanation.

      Are these trains scheduled to run outside the peaks, at night, perhaps, or are some trains from the South being diverted on to the North Cotswold line via Evesham ,(now ,mostly, restored to double track )?

      This whole incident does highlight the past folly of ‘thinning out ‘the network in past decades.
      Look at some of the former junctions and potential interchange points that no longer exist;- Banbury-Culworth, Cheltenham Landsdown, Honeybourne-Stratford, Fenny Compton-Stratford, Ashendon-Grendon and more…

      Compared to the costs of reinstating closed routes , the historic ‘economies’ gained by shutting them in the first place seem ludicrously small.
      The East-West line, Oxford-Bicester-Milton Keynes is being rebuilt, but even the remaining operational section has had to be closed for a number of months,even years,for the work to be carried out!

      To avoid the aftermath of another “Harbury” incident, extra tracks are needed …hence the call for something…something fit for both present and future demands…hence HS2!

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