Improve the WCML for Scotland’s sake

Earlier this week, Transform Scotland issued their response to the consultation on the West Coast Main Line franchise. The next franchise will last until 2026, when the Department for Transport wants HS2 to open the Euston to Birmingham section.

Transform Scotland argue in favour of improvements to the line between Glasgow and London during the course of the next WCML franchise: they say these are a necessary part of preparations for HS2.

Their response says

“In particular we would refer to the route north to Scotland from Weaver Junction. The WCML upgrade was de-scoped on the northern parts of the route and additionally much of the signalling system has been in place since the mid-1970s and is in need of replacement. It is essential that this re-signalling is not merely replaced on a like-for-like basis thereby locking in the 1970s constraints. ….

“If this work is not undertaken during this franchise then HS2 services on the West Coast Main Line are likely to be restricted to 100 or 110mph as well as operating in non-tilt mode. Under such a scenario Scotland will be condemned to a second class service from the outset of HS2.”

Upgrading the WCML is necessary for Scotland to benefit from HS2.  But it seems the improvements would benefit Scotland even without HS2.

As Transform Scotland  say

“The Pendolino trains currently running on the route are capable of speeds of 140mph but the required infrastructure improvements to allow this to happen have not been made. …. It is essential that this work is carried out during the duration of this franchise.”

Meanwhile, we have the Department for Transport arguing against improvements to the West Coast Main Line, as part of their case for building HS2.  In particular, in their FAQ on HS2 they say

“Another upgrade [to the WCML], such as Rail Package 2, would provide nowhere near the new capacity of a high speed line or its speed and connectivity benefits while again causing massive disruption for passengers.”

However, by being so dismissive, they damage the case for HS2.

No wonder the Department for Transport say that it would be “too difficult” to pass the legislation to build HS2 to Scotland.

8 comments to “Improve the WCML for Scotland’s sake”
  1. Firstly remember that Transport is one of those areas which has been devolved to the Scottish Assembly. Therefore if the Scots want a high speed line (whether to England or anywhere else) then they will have to dig deep into their own pockets to pay for it. By all means it must be co-ordinated with the plans of HS2 and the DfT, but hiding behind Hadrian’s Wall and moaning that you haven’t received an invitation to the high speed rail party will get you nowhere!

    As regards the HS2 trains running at lower speeds and the Virgin Pendolinos running at 140 mph, this is a complicated area. There are significant stretches of the WCML on which conventional trains could operate at 125 mph. The only reason they don’t is the politics behind the original WCML upgrade, which resulted in the upgrade being limited to (Virgin’s) tilting trains only. Secondly in order to run at speeds in excess of 125 mph you need in-cab signalling. This is only likely to be delivered on the northern end of the WCML in the early 2030s. Any claims by Virgin that they can deliver it earlier should be treated with extreme scepticism, followed by the question “So Virgin will pay for the necessary infrastructure and signalling upgrades will they?” and wait for the deafening silence in response.

    Finally a reminder that the WCML is very much a mixed-traffic railway, especially so on the 2-track section north of Preston, where slow freight and stopping passenger trains have to mix it with the fast Euston – Glasgow services. Any attempt to speed up the fast services will eat into the timetable capacity to run the slower services. It seems to me that Transport Scotland is keen on demanding delivery of outputs which are favourable to them without actually considering how they will be delivered or who will suffer as a result.

  2. At the end of the day the DfT aren’t interested in Scotland and certainly not Glasgow. There isn’t enough money there to drain down to London. HMG have started spreading the hollow promises and flexi truth because they know they need the support. They are counting on despeate people clutching at straws, niaivly trusting and believing the diatribe and spin they are churning out. More jobs… It doesn’t even equate to 1 in 10 at each station. How many jobs have Scotland lost as a result of the cuts. How many can afford to pay for this luxury for the people who can afford it, when it probably won’t ever get as far as Hadrian.

    The most charming element is the improvements will be implemented will come from the franchise, not the DfT who should have, could have, commissioned the work years ago. If they really cared they would have done it. If they weren’t so deperate for support now, they wouldn’t even be talking to Scotland. But who knows what the situation will be in 25 years plus time, will they (DfT) see it through. Highly unlikely because there still won’t be the money to drain to London.

    Don’t sell your souls to this Faust Scotland.

  3. yes lets build a new one instead asap much cheaper and less disruptive and no need to literally drive passengers back to their cars and into planes whilst the work goes on for years

  4. And of course, Network Rail already have projects underway to improve WCML north of Weaver Junction… such is the electrification of the Preston to Manchester line, which will mean an all electric route from Manchester to Glasgow. As an aside to this, you have to marvel at the current engineering of both the WCML and M6 through the Lakes and Scottish Lowlands which present an infinately greater challenge than a new line through the chilterns.

  5. As we know, RP2 refers to upgrading the WCML between London and Manchester, it does not include improvements to the classic line between the latter and Scotland.

    Preferring HS2 over RP2 is not a rejection of improvements north of Manchester, which would complement HS2.

    • The Dft page linked to in the article said it’s difficult to upgrade a ‘live’ railway line. They didn’t distinguish between the WCML north of Manchester and the WCML south of Manchester.

      • Indeed it is difficult to upgrade a ” live ” railway line Joanne… much easier just to build a new one.

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