die belebende Bedenkung

Observations on developing the Midland Main Line

with 4 comments

possible electrification concept for Midland Main Line and associated linesThe Midland Main Line is the principal railway connecting London’s St Pancras station, the East Midlands, and South Yorkshire. The portion between Bedford and London, electrified in the early 1980s, has significant commuter traffic to and from the capital, with Thameslink trains continuing via Blackfriars to destinations south of the Thames, including Brighton. Although most long distance trains are operated by Bombardier Meridian and InterCity 125 formations, extensive use of 125mph (200 km/h) appears more of a Network Rail aspiration than a reality, although that linespeed is mentioned as existing in Network Rail’s Route Utilisation Strategy.

Investment in the MML has not matched levels seen on the West Coast or East Coast Main Lines, and decisions on electrification of the main line proper (i.e., beyond Bedford) have been placed on the back burner. Since 2008, the prospects for significant upgrading of the MML appear to have receded, due to the state of the public finances, and politicians’ seeming overnight conversion to new-build high speed rail. The £17+ billion High Speed 2 line has been at the forefront of government transport policy, with investment in MML almost nowhere to be seen.

In its response to the government’s consultation on HS2, high speed rail lobbyist Greengauge 21 has backed a link from HS2WM near Birmingham to the existing cross-country line to East Midlands and South Yorkshire, although there’s no detail given as to how this would work. According to HS2 Ltd, the new-build Coleshill to Euston trunk would carry 14 trains per hour in each direction, without any paths allocated to London – Derby/Nottingham/Sheffield traffic. Besides, routeing such trains over HS2 would make no sense in carbon emissions, Greengauge 21 provides no usage projections, and no-one seems to know where the East Midlands station would be. I suppose if you’re blindly devoted to an idea, details like these don’t matter.

In commissioned work for the Department for Transport, W S Atkins have presented MML electrification as part of a package of measures for comparison against HS2. The order of events following the Labour government’s conversion to new build high speed rail was: (#1) set up the HS2 project and HS2 Ltd, then (#2) commission some reports showing that (#1) is the correct course of action. In essence, Atkins were tasked with demonstrating the inferiority of upgrading MML and other lines, compared with Adonis/Steer.

One of MML’s advantages is the existence of stations close to Derby, Leicester, and Nottingham city centres. Yet, as demonstrated by the vacillation that preceded the announcement on Great Western electrification beyond Didcot to South Wales (and its truncation at Cardiff), prospects for significant development of the MML appear to be darkening, in the face of political fascination with the grand projet, in the form of Adonis/Steer high speed rail (and its parkway stations remote from city centres).

Because the Midland Main Line has a fair amount of spare capacity, it could be used to augment the range of services between the northern England and London, at a far lower cost than £33+ billion involved in building HS2 to Manchester and Leeds. In the 1960s, the Midland Main Line was used by fast trains running between Manchester and London, travelling through the picturesque Peak District (also providing Manchester with a direct link to Derby and Leicester).

Following the electrification of the West Coast Main Line, the St Pancras – East Midlands – Manchester services were discontinued, and the line north of Matlock was closed down. Although the original Mancunian terminus for the MML, Manchester Central, has long been re-purposed, it would still be possible to recreate a Manchester to St Pancras train service, and give the East Midlands a credible rail connection into the North West. The route through the Peak District is essentially intact, and (part) used by Peak Rail’s heritage trains.

Given the political will, electrification of the MML could be implemented at relatively low cost, especially if existing rolling stock were re-used as part of the process. Provision of a pantograph car for the Bombardier (currently diesel) rolling stock has already been discussed. It’s also known that large numbers of InterCity 125 carriages are fit for modernisation (i.e., power doors, retention toilets, additional facilities for disabled people).

New electric locomotives combined with rakes of remanufactured Mark 3 carriages, could be part of the environment-friendly alternative to the run down, diesel operated MML future offered up by HS2.

Written by beleben

April 24, 2011 at 6:23 pm

4 Responses

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  1. A Midland Main Line with restored connections such as Wellingborough-Northampton and improved Nottingham -Newark would have proved a godsend on more than one occasion in the past year when the capcity of the MML to take re-routed ECML and WCML services or run replacement trains.

    The closure of the Matlock-Buxton line was believed by many to be an engineered means to ensure that the boosted passenger numbers required to fund and justify the WCML electrification would be ‘forced’ by making all the Derby & E Midlands traffic head via Stoke. A suggestion is also that the closure of the S&C line concurrent with the ECML electrification would have forced all Yorkshire -Scotland traffic on to the newly energised route.

    However the improvement of many regional links for speed & frequency of service is delivering faster journey times with the option of more than one route – useful both to deliver choice of departure times AND a contingency of sending passengers via another route during engineering works or service disruption.

    There was a great irony – surely not deliberate? in the maps displayed when MML HST’s ran via Sheffield to cover a period of disruption on WCML routes to Manchester..(I’ll post a picture) the route indicated cut across roughly along the old Midland Main Line to Manchester…..

    Dave H

    April 24, 2011 at 7:11 pm

  2. […] a reactivation of the line through the Peak District, the £17 billion HS2 phase one would not provide any noticeable rail capacity uplift between […]

  3. […] a ‘Mark 6′ carriage could form the basis of the intercity rolling stock fleet for the Midland Main Line, Chiltern Main Line, East Coast Main Line (InterCity 125 replacement), and Great Western lines. […]

    6 appeal « beleben

    June 13, 2011 at 10:24 pm

  4. […] if such a thing could be said to exist — as it includes electrification of (most of) the Midland Main Line, improvements to the East Coast Main Line, and a freight-oriented “electric spine” […]

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