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Manchester via Woodford

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Manchester and Birmingham intercity Chiltern re-routeing concept

Manchester and Birmingham intercity Chiltern re-routeing concept

In normal daytime service about half of the London intercity trains on the West Coast route are headed to or from Birmingham, or Manchester. Transferring those services to the Chiltern and Great Central routes would allow re-use of six fast paths on the busiest part of the WCML, decapitating the HS2 “capacity” argument in one fell swoop.

To achieve a journey time similar to the current one, Manchester trains would need to maintain speed on the transition to the West Coast line near Rugby. Constructing the interconnector would probably be the largest single cost in Great Central reactivation.

An interesting aspect of the Chiltern intercity proposition is that it may not even require restoration of four tracks to Seer Green (assuming that the proposed Oxford — Marylebone Evergreen 3 service did not proceed). If a rational use policy were applied to the Paddington Fast Lines, additional London — Oxford trains could run via Reading.

The same London Manchester rail capacity as HS2, with higher resilience, at much lower cost


Written by beleben

March 5, 2014 at 9:41 am

Posted in High speed rail, HS2

3 Responses

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  1. As an alternative to your Rugby “interconnector”, I suggest building a 26km (16 mile) line between Bishops Itchington on the Chiltern Line (ex GWR), north of Banbury and Brinklow on the Trent Valley line. This new line could follow the alignment of the former Leamington Spa to Rugby railway between Marton and Cawston; a distance of about 9km; reducing the length of totally new alignment to only 17km.

    This proposal would avoid the need to build about 12km of “interconnector”, from say Willoughby (on the GCR) to Church Lawford, and the need to reconstruct about 58km of the GCR between Willoughby and Ashendon Junction. This section of the GCR includes Catesby tunnel and some places where the line has been built over. Although the GCR was built to a “continental gauge”, it was before Berne gauge was established and I don’t know whether 25kV electrification is possible without considerable works. So building 14km more line than that required for your interconnector scheme would save reconstructing about 58km of the GCR. There seem to be no insuperable problems to designing my suggested link to cater for 200 or 250kph trains. Although the GCR was constructed to a high standard for its era, it seems to me that such speeds could not be achieved throughout without some modifications to its alignment.

    I see the advantages of my suggested link being that any improvements to the Chiltern Line between Ashendon and Birmingham Moor Street, such as electrification speed or capacity improvements, would also benefit trains using this link. It would also create an interchange in Banbury between the Trent Valley or Leamington routes to the north and the Chiltern Line or Oxford (ex GWR) routes to the south. It could also be used as a diversion route for the southern part of the WCML.

    My suggested link also form part of the so called “electric spine” serving Reading / Southampton and it would enable freight trains to avoid the Birmingham area. A chord at Church Lawford onto the Rugby – Coventry Line would also allow Chiltern trains to serve Coventry. Another benefit of this chord would be that it could be used as a diversionary route for the northern part of the Chiltern Line to provide extra resilience when required.

    I have no idea how much 26km of electrified double track line, engineered for, say 250kph, would cost. Unfortunately its probably, a lot more than it should be, but I would hope significantly lesss than five billion pounds. If capacity is the problem that HS2 is trying to solve, then why spend more?

    If more capacity is required on the WCML south of Milton Keynes then an 18km line heading east from Bletchley to near Toddington could feed trains into the Midland Main Line and into Thameslink. If these trains were capable of travelling at the same speed as MML trains, then they could probably use the fast lines south of Luton. Add another 18km line from Toddington to the ECML south of Hitchin and both these lines could form part of the East-West route to Cambridge.


    March 6, 2014 at 12:55 am

    • Thank you for your apposite comments. I would particularly agree with the idea of using the Midland Main Line to relieve Milton Keynes. In the view of the Beleben blog, HS2’s big weaknesses include:

      * its cost,

      * the construction disruption,

      * its London-centricity,

      * its meagre freight benefits, and

      * the lack of benefit for intermediate places (e.g. Northamptonshire).

      So the challenges and benefits of Great Central reactivation, could be more than just about re-routeing three trains an hour to and from Manchester.

      You might agree with my view of the current official version of the Electric Spine being about as much use as a chocolate teapot. The idea of running worthwhile volumes of septentrional freight via Leamington Spa / Nuneaton is nobbled by the single track sections, and the two flat junctions across the Birmingham — Rugby line.

      The best estimate of GB double track railway rebuild costs would probably come from the Airdrie — Bathgate scheme. As you’ve noted, GC reactivation would also involve some one-of-a-kind big ticket items, including clearing Catesby tunnel, getting across Brackley, etc. However, the costs could only be a small fraction of those of the HS2 project.


      March 6, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      • I agree with your assessment of HS2’s weaknesses. Your blogs are great and you obviously spend quite some time researching them and writing them, but I am surprised that they do not attract many comments.

        Thanks for your suggestion of looking at Airdrie – Bathgate costs.

        “The £60m contract to construct the Airdrie-Bathgate link was awarded to Balfour Beatty Rail Projects in October 2008. This included the construction of (15 miles of [my addition]) new track between Airdrie and Bathgate, double tracking the line between Airdrie and Drumgelloch and electrifying the entire route.”

        Another £100 million was spent on building and moving stations, ground treatment, light maintenance depot etc. The widely reported total figure is £300 million which also includes work on other sections of the route including station car parks, a cycleway and the replacement or upgrading of 69 bridges.

        Having looked at my suggested route in more detail, I think it will need a tunnel of about 2 to 3 km beneath Long Itchington Wood (where it would cross the proposed alignment of HS2 which is also proposed to be in tunnel at that point). Even with this tunnel included it is hard to see this link costing more than a billion pounds.


        March 6, 2014 at 3:41 pm

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