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Rail Package 6

with 22 comments

Following the May 2010 election, the coalition government reviewed high speed rail policy inherited from Labour, but with little enthusiasm for thinking outside the HS2 box created by Andrew Adonis. In fact, the review resulted in the Conservatives ditching their own S-shaped, airport-intensive high speed vision in favour of a modified version of Labour’s scheme. However, under the coalition there have been presentational changes, with HS2 now marketed as a sort of panacea for capacity shortfalls on the existing network.

HS2 would certainly produce large amounts of additional rail capacity, but most of it would be unusable. Traditionally, the costs of meeting peak demand on rail services have been essentially confined to the rolling stock parc. That is, in the middle of the day and at weekends, large numbers of trains are stored out of use, in sidings. But with High Speed Two, the costs of meeting peak demand on rail services are no longer confined to the size of the train fleet; they are spread to the whole railway, in the form of the massive additional fixed infrastructure of the HS2 trunk. Most of the HS2-generated capacity (on both HS2 and the West Coast line) would be unused, most of the time. Given that the £17 billion stage one investment would “free up capacity” on just one existing line (the West Coast Main Line) and only from the year 2026, there seems to be a pressing need to examine the potential of current assets.

The Atkins rail interventions studies commissioned by the government seem to have been designed to bolster the case for HS2. For example, in its Chiltern line upgrade, Atkins included billions of pounds of unnecessary infrastructure (such as a £3 billion tunnel at Seer Green).

None of the five Atkins Rail Packages represent a best value approach to railway planning. What’s needed is a “Rail Package 6” – a package that could be implemented incrementally, providing capacity where and when it is needed.

Rail Package 6

Possible components of a low risk, balanced, and scalable rail upgrade package.

West Coast Main Line

(i) Creation of a fourth track from Attleborough to Brinklow.
(ii) Grade separation at the Ledburn crossover.
(iii) Introduction of high capacity signalling.
(iv) New outer suburban rolling stock.1
(v) Modification of the intercity fleet.2
(vi) New shoulder peak tarification.3

Chiltern Main Line

(i) Upgrading and electrification of the Chiltern Main Line between London Paddington and the West Midlands. Unlike Atkins’ proposals, this would not include unnecessary infrastructure, such as the Banbury by-pass.
(ii) Modification of Birmingham Snow Hill station, to allow use by intercity trains of up to 16 coaches.
(iii) Construction of an interchange at Old Oak Common, allowing transfers between intercity rail, local rail (including Crossrail), buses, and coaches. Platforms would allow 16 coach trains to run to the West Midlands.4

Aylesbury Line

Upgrading and electrification of the London Marylebone to Aylesbury track, with commuter service extended over the Varsity Line to Bletchley.5

Midland Main Line

(i) Upgrading and electrification between Bedford, Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield and Leeds.
(ii) Reopening and electrification of the Peak line between the Midland Main Line trunk and Stockport.

East Coast Main Line

(i) Upgrading and electrification of the Nottingham to Grantham line.
(ii) Electrification between Leeds and Church Fenton.

Great Central Main Line

Safeguarding of the remaining parts of the formation of the Great Central Railway south of Leicester, for future rail use.


1. New outer suburban trains could be designed for 200-225 km/h operation, to avoid wasting WCML path capacity. By adopting full width inter-carriage connections, there would be potential for these trains to carry a larger number of passengers.

2. Modification of the Pendolino fleet could be limited to converting one first class carriage to second class. There doesn’t appear to be any requirement to extend formations to 12 cars, because of all the additional capacity created by other measures.

3. Tarification could potentially better manage use of outer suburban trains in the peak period, replacing the binary peak-or-off-peak system.

4. There would be no requirement for Great Western trains to stop at Old Oak Common. Passengers travelling from Bristol to Birmingham would be encouraged to use the existing direct cross-country railway, rather than changing trains in London, as proposed by Greengauge 21.

5. Not Milton Keynes Central.

Written by beleben

August 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm

22 Responses

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  1. From the 2010 Atkins alternatives, Package 3 costs about £12.5bn. The packages are ‘gold-plated’ in order to deliver 125mph line speeds to match (or better) the WCML, but in reality this is not the best way to develop the route. It seems a huge cost just to raise speeds to 125mph and provide only 8tph into London.

    The Evergreen investment program pushes line speeds to 100mph and the London-Birmingham journey to around 90 minutes. Arguably, further investment on this route should prioritise capacity rather than speed, with the main aim to relieve the WCML.

    Looking at the cost estimates for RP3 from the Atkins study : — Banbury cut-off (£664m): to “safeguard freight capacity”, “reduce journey times and “help accommodate the interaction between 125 mph ‘fasts’ and up to 2 tph freight.” But the alignment is already four-track from the M40 crossing south of Banbury up to the M40 crossing north. And the Banbury resignalling due in the current investment period (CP4) will provide additional capacity, operational flexibility and reduced headways. — Princes Risborough cut-off (£619m) and four-tracking (£598m): “because existing through trains are limited to 95 mph and many additionally need to call there.” But the layout and alignment at Princes Risborough provides space for passing loops, and that’s a huge expense for such a small improvement in line speed. — High Wycombe avoiding tunnel (£1,116m) will save just 4 minutes journey time, and again long passing loops could be rebuilt for slow/freight trains. — Four-tracking Seer Green-South Ruislip (£804m) will segregate local/freight services from expresses, but there are few stations along this line anyway and all apart from Denham Golf Club have alignments with long passing loops at stations — New segregated route into Paddington (£429m), including a new underpass at Old Oak Common. But the current historic route along the north of the GWML Slows could simply be re-doubled and run into the north side of the platforms at Paddington, or if need be cross into the southern platforms using the existing empty stock flyover.

    The HS2 analysis also lumps in costs which are covered in other proposals, e.g. Kenilworth doubling (£180m), which is anyway recommended to progress in the recent RUS.

    Also, four-tracking Tyseley-Dorridge would cost $399m but would also bring significant benefits for local metro and Chiltern mainline services and provide freight capacity, therefore the costs should be shared.

    So, for a much more modest investment, the GW-GC route could be upgraded back to its original design, and provide much-needed capacity. And, as you’ve pointed out before, the route can easily extend through Snow Hill to other destinations in the West Midlands, which is not possible with HS2.


    August 22, 2011 at 2:19 pm

  2. I’ve been looking at WCML, MML and GC/GW-DL on my travels and see an amazing extent of 4-track formation or land purchased to provide same over substantial distances. True there are some pinch points but looking at these there are equally some simple by-passes. On Sunday 21st we had the WCML in a supine state with the line blocked RUG-NUN by a fatality and EUS-WFJ with problems around WFJ. On Monday 22nd also some issues at WFJ, and blockage Stafford-Stoke (but a way round that one)

    For the fatality – the electrification of COV-NUN would have delivered a swift by-pass route for TV4 trains, if necessary terminating some at NUN and RUG. This facility would permit the final bit of 4-tracking to be delivered with a full closure of the route. The other detail is not an interchange alone at OOC but rail connections which would have permitted the EUS services to head out via GC/GW or WCML and likewise come in to PAD or EUS, the ability to run PAD services in to EUS or Waterloo International provides a valuable time & cost saving feature to give space for the Electrification works to take place.

    In spite of the carefully crafted Rules of the Route, we seem to have achieved a position similar to that when BOTH main rail routes into Scotland had simultaneous blockades over several weekends, the WCML has a blockade for EUS-RUG whilst the GC/GW is still shut for the 2 week blockade. Leaving only an option of going via OXF for the Midlands and very few spare paths for that. And similar key connections can be seen in the few miles of track at Wellingborough/NMP/ a South facing connection at Bedford – or restoring Luton-Leighton Buzzard as a real railway, or connecting back from Bletchley to Verney/Quainton Road.

    Even the Great Central route has a surprising mileage with rails on it and restoring it will bring in 4 -5 significant settlements in the East Midlands as rail connected again .

    I disagree with the 16 coaches though. The GC/GW was built with Berne in the frame and if we can run the freight loading gauge – we can run decent bi-level carriages, even if the internal layout requires radical rethinking (eg lower level has a side gangway and 3 transverse seats upper level has longitudonal seats on one side, and enhanced standing capacity- plus of course full width end connections, to deliver high flow rates on and off the train and good peak hour crush loading – as for much of the day the train will be ’empty’).

    As an indication of the low level of demand, the 10 coaches of the Voyager I was travelling on had barely 40 passengers North of Carlisle (with 3 further stops) I had a carriage to myself, not an uncommon experience when travelling back North of Carlisle on the last trains of the day. Bigger more frequent trains and you risk moving a lot more fresh air around more quickly.

    With a mix & match switchability, using the existing routes

    1) construction can be phased delivering detail with long blockades that can be by-passed.
    2) the service pattern can spread over a set of routes in the way that Manchester-Euston does – 3 trains/hour between main centres and hourly service to 3 different regional centres en route, giving widest benefits and revenue opportunities
    3) the split service also permits a generous pathing window so that a sweeper connecting service can fit between the fast trains, giving a far larger coverage of faster OVERALL journey times. Fast train followed by stopping train, either on same or parallel tracks depending on capacity required (eg routes taken between TV-4 and Manchester – core route = 4 on fast line split sections = 2 mixed with slow services
    4) the inter-available paired main lines London-Leeds/Manchester will permit long blockades to deliver EU standard gauge clearances on the WCML and MML routes in a progressive programme, whilst maintaining a long distance through route and ‘short road shuttle’ rail replacement options, or the rail connection restored (eg Market Harborough-Lutterworth/Wellingborough-Northhampton, Hemel Hempstead-High Wycombe)


    August 23, 2011 at 7:57 am

    • It’s highly likely that the Great Central Main Line was better engineered than earlier railways, and I’m all for retaining the option of reactivating it. Of course, this could not happen if HS2 were built. In the short to medium term, I think it’s important to prioritise upgrading of the Chiltern and Midland Main Lines. From my standpoint, the problem with Berne(sque) gauge rolling stock is that it doesn’t offer mix and match switchability (MAMS), as most of Britain’s ‘classic’ rail network cannot accommodate it.

      With modern signalling command-and-control, there’d be the possibility of reconfiguring train services en masse, at short notice, along different routes; something that has not been possible until now. MAMS routes need to have the same tech and the same minimum loading gauge standard. Hence the idea of a 23-metre, British loading gauge, go-anywhere (more correctly, go-almost-anywhere’) ‘Mark 6’ carriage.


      August 23, 2011 at 12:14 pm

  3. […] rail assets is expensive, and maintaining high speed rail assets, even more expensive. So unusable capacity is a big problem with Adonis/Steer pattern high speed rail. The scale of the capacity […]

  4. […] of HS2, why support the policy? After all, sensible rail improvement products are available. […]

    HS2 and Liverpool « beleben

    September 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm

  5. […] Coast Main Line in one fell swoop. So the scalable capacity gains possible from an approach such as Rail Package 6, are common sense. But common sense has some powerful foes in politics, and big business. […]

  6. […] capacity requirements were met through upgrades but without lengthening Pendolinos to 12 carriages, the number of intervention points on the WCML would be drastically […]

    Going up to eleven « beleben

    September 14, 2011 at 11:58 am

  7. […] answer is to build 420 metre platforms in those cities (at Old Oak Common and Snow Hill), and run 16-carriage trains on the Chiltern Line. That would deliver capacity higher than that of HS2, at a fraction of the cost, and eliminate the […]

  8. […] of lines, and provide network-capable rolling stock that can be switched between them (the ‘Rail Package 6‘ concept). […]

  9. […] the Chiltern Line volume could be expanded by 800%+, through relatively small investment). And 16-coach intercity passenger trains are already operating on the British railway network. […]

  10. […] the expensive tunnel being built under central London. By moving West Midlands intercity services to the Chiltern Line, and moving Milton Keynes commuter services into Crossrail, there would no longer be any […]

  11. […] the other hand, the Rail Package 6 concept would provide alternative routes for both intercity and commuter […]

  12. […] Line is to reconfigure North – South traffic on a network basis — the principle used in Rail Package 6. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  13. […] to do with special interests. Rail capacity planning needs to be based on rational analysis, and optimal use of assets.

  14. […] is no need to spend £20 billion to improve a rail journey from Heathrow to Birmingham. In the Rail Package 6 concept, the trip could be made in about two hours, with just one change of […]

  15. […] the Rail Package 6 concept, London to West Midlands intercity trains would run on the Chiltern Main Line, thereby […]

  16. […] bids, as reported by Railnews, include direct trains to Bolton, a feature of the Rail Package 6 concept in which the local leg of intercity journeys is shortened […]

  17. […] on the lines of the 51m scheme would have to be implemented by default’, is incorrect. In the Rail Package 6 concept, West Midlands intercity trains would run on the Chiltern Main Line, not on West Coast, so the […]

  18. […] commuter services are neither particularly heavily used, nor particularly crowded. But if the Rail Package 6 concept were implemented — with West Midlands intercity services transferred to the Chiltern […]

  19. […] the extended Rail Package 6 concept, the Great Central route between Ashendon, Banbury, and Leicester would be reactivated, […]

    Rugby in RP6 « beleben

    December 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm

  20. […] the Rail Package 6 base concept, the Chiltern Main Line would take over London to West Midlands intercity traffic. […]

  21. […] WCML West Midlands loop are shown in light green in the infrastructure enhancement table. In the Rail Package 6 concept, West Midlands intercity trains would be routed on the Chiltern Line, and as a result, […]

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