die belebende Bedenkung

Make Central Great Again

with 3 comments

Only 22% of Midlanders are supportive of HS2, but a majority (52%) think it is ‘important to have more capacity on trains between the Midlands and London’, according to YouGov’s poll for ITV Central (1 Aug 2019).


HS2 would cost over £100 billion (according to prime minister Boris Johnson) and increase greenhouse gas emissions (admitted by HS2 Ltd), but the public seems to understand there are cheaper and greener ways of increasing rail capacity.

For example, intercity and commuter output on the existing tracks out of London Euston could be more than doubled by

  • using space-efficient rolling stock, and
  • remodelling platforms (making use of land on the west side, currently earmarked for the HS2 station).

But there are other interesting options for increasing throughput, such as by reactivation of the section of Great Central Railway south of Leicester. The alignment of this part of the GCR is largely intact, as can be seen from Google maps or field visits.

Unlike HS2, the ‘GCR2’ concept could offer direct local benefits to places on the railway itself, in Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire. These benefits would come in the form of semifast trains serving stations at Rugby, Woodford, Brackley, and Calvert (for example). As the majority of intercity trains from London would continue to run on the West Coast Main Line via Bletchley, there would be space in the timetable for this semifast provision.

Reconstructing a Great-Central-to-Great-Western link near Banbury would open up new connectivities between northern England, the Thames Valley, and beyond. No equivalent benefits exist in the HS2 scheme, as its only destination in the ‘south of England’, is London.

The Great Central railway viewed as a bypass for the 'London and Birmingham' route via Bletchley

For GCR2 to be effective as a bypass for the West Coast Main Line (WCML), it would need a physical interconnection near Rugby. As a bonus, it might be possible to re-site or extend Rugby Midland station, to allow passenger interchange with high-level GCR platforms on a viaduct over the West Coast tracks.

Possible intercity / interregio services on a reactivated Great Central Railway

For GCR2 to function as a backup for the Midland Main Line, a new connection would be needed south of Leicester, to allow trains access to London Road station and points north.

It’s been claimed by HS2 amateurs that redevelopment in Brackley would make reactivation of the GCR impossible, but the available evidence suggests otherwise. There would be appear to be at least two options.

  1. Reconstruct the line on the original alignment.
  2. Construct a new alignment to the east.

The challenges at Brackley would be similar in magnitude to those faced by other rail reactivation projects, such as the successful restoration of Nottingham to Mansfield passenger services, or the proposed ‘East West Rail’ from Bedford to Cambridge.

Brackley, Northamptonshire, aerial view showing Great Central railway alignment, Google maps

Brackley, route of GCR on old Ordnance Survey map

Brackley, Northamptonshire, aerial view showing Great Central railway alignment, Google maps

How could trains routed via GCR2 get into London? The lowest cost options would involve sharing (or duplicating) the existing Chiltern line tracks between Ashendon Junction and Northolt, reaching Old Oak Common via the New North Main Line.

Apart from at High Wycombe, much of the route between Ashendon and Northolt appears to have been laid out in expectation of four-tracking.

Another option, which might be offered to placate construction industry special interests, would be to construct a new section of line from the vicinity of Calvert, towards Old Oak Common. Its alignment would not need be the same as the equivalent section of HS2.

Written by beleben

August 6, 2019 at 1:24 pm

Posted in HS2

3 Responses

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  1. […] Reactivating the Great Central route to Rugby and Leicester with new connections to the West Coast and Midland Main lines would be much cheaper, less disruptive, and greener than building HS2. But how could trains from ‘GCR2’ be accommodated in London? […]

    • Would it not make sense to connect GCR2 to Old Oak Common station with its interchange to the Elizabeth Line (Heathrow and central London) and forget about the Euston connection for the foreseeable future? This would save a lot of disruption, expense and ultimately congestion around North London and Euston.

      Christopher Cormack

      December 11, 2019 at 1:04 pm

  2. I love this article. I am a menber of the English Regional Transport Association, which is actively promoting the concept exactly as outlined here. It’s good that Brackley Central Station has been saved and is now a cafe. My personal suggestion as to how to reinstate the GCR at Brackley is to add two extra tracks to the HS2 bridge across the A43 valley and for the reopened route to be alongside HS2 for a while with a station east of the old station. This assumes HS2 goes ahead in some shape or form. We’ll see what happens after this general election.

    Mr S J Borrill

    December 7, 2019 at 12:18 pm

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