14 January 2009

WCML upgrade

The West Coast Main Line (WCML) upgrade was completed to its modified time-frame, though not within its original budget, and has been a particularly controversial decade-long scheme. The claim that Virign Trains would be able to operate their Class 390 Pendolino trains at their maximum 140mph speed has also fallen by the wayside, yet despite this, thanks to the upgrade, around 2,000 trains are now able to operate along the WCML and rail freight growth has been estimated at 70%.

Following completion, Virgin Trains introduced its Very High Frequency timetable last month, which saw a 30% increase in journeys that have up to 25 minutes shaved off some end-to-end journeys. A maximum of 13 trains per hour can depart London Euston bound for the West Midlands, the North West and southern Scotland.

One of the last sections of the WCML that required work was a £350 million project in the Trent Valley, where new track needed laying between Tamworth and Armitage, thus unblocking a bottleneck along the route. Rugby has made the news on many occasions during the upgrade works, and not always for the good! It was near here at the start of 2008 than an engineering overrun saw no train services for up to three days into the first week in January. So bad was the inconvenience that Network Rail was later fined £14 million for that and other overruns at the same time elsewhere.

However, the line speed through Rugby for non-stopping services has risen dramatically from 75-125mph; this was possible as a result of a £415 million project to simplify the signalling and track in the area.

With air travel seeing a 40% reduction along the same route of the WCML, things are looking very rosy indeed. We hope to travel the full length of the route aboard a Pendolino between Glasgow Central-London Euston in the advertised time of 4:44 in the very near future. This now presents a problem, however: with a reduction of around 25 minutes, it's one less passing of the refreshment trolley - its contents totally free to those travelling first-class!

The fly-in-the-ointment has been the unprecidented situation of three 'wires down' incidents in as many days within the first week of its opening, causing horific delays to commuters.