The West Coast Upgrade

There is currently a major split in the UK rail network, while the East Coast mainline has been properly funded allowing 140 mph intercity trains to travel along, the west coast has been starved of cash... that is until now. The map on the right shows the West Coast Mainline (WCML) in red, and the East Coast Mainline in blue (ECML). The WCML is in Britain's busiest transport corridor which contains about 20 million people.

The route connects the major cities London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. Each of these cities has about 1 million residents, except London which has 7 million. Also along the route stations for towns and cities: Watford, Milton Keynes, Rugby, Nuneaton, Tamworth, Stafford, Crewe, Stoke-on-Trent, Warrington, Wigan, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme and Carlisle. This is a four track line for most of the way south of Scotland two fast tracks and two slow tracks for both directions. The slow tracks accommodate freqently stopping passenger trains serving small towns along the way and frieght trains use the slow tracks too.

Currently class 86 and 87/90 engines pull and push trains on the west coast and are capable of 100mph (160km/h) and 110mph (176km/h) respectively, although many sections of track have speed restrictions below this. As shown below the current average speeds of trains along this track are about 75 mph (120km/h), which good steam services could have maintained in the 1940s!

Now with rail privatisation Richard Branson of the Virgin Group has decided to make the west coast into a high speed line like the east coast. This is good news, Richard Branson's company virgin has an airline, has many megastores and outlets, and is the distributor for many videos/cassettes, so he has plenty of money to spare for the railways now.

Bringing 140mph (225km/h) to the line

A 600 million deal, which will slash rail journey times on a main London-Scotland route, was announced by Railtrack and Richard Branson's Virgin Rail company. How it affects journey times.It will involve track and signalling improvements on the Virgin-run West Coast main line which will help to cut 90 minutes off the London-Glasgow journey time by the year 2005. The improvements will allow tilting trains using the originally abandoned advanced passenger train technology to run on the 400-mile route, first at 125 mph in 2002 and then at 140 mph in 2005. The project will be partly financed by a revenue-sharing deal between Virgin and Railtrack, although this has to be approved by the rail regulator and by the rail franchising director. The investment will enable Virgin to nearly double its service to 11 trains an hour from London's Euston station to Scotland and will also benefit other train companies which use parts of the West Coast route. The West Coast deal is additional to the 1.5 billion Railtrack has already promised to invest in the cash-starved line.

The upgrade will include segragating the slow tracks from the fast tracks. In addition to the upgrade from 110mph (176km/h) to 140 mph (225km/h) for the fast tracks, the slow tracks will be upgraded from 75mph (120km/h) to 100mph (160km/h). This will allow other train operators with 100mph multiple units to use the slow tracks ensuring that the 140mph trains are not stuck behind slower running trains.

A total of 55 new advanced 140mph (225km/h) tilting trains will be introduced on the route in summer 2002. Together with the new Cross Country trains, the additional rolling stock will enable Virgin to increase the number of passengers it carries from 25 million today to 50 million in 2005. The Trains will be first delivered to the UK

Why is Richard Branson doing this?

Richard banson will spend about 2billion on this project, a vast amount of money by any means. Currently Virgin rail only has 5% of the London to Manchester transport market, with the other rail companies, Bus, Lorries, Airlines and the car competing. Projections are that by introducing high speed tilting trains and the this will increase to 15% making it a profitable venture. Naturally this carries some risk but Richard Branson is confident it will work, since it was at these sorts of levels in thea early 1980s

Could Britain have done better?

Although this may seem exciting, if a brand new high speed line had been built with 200mph (320km/h) support then we could expect average speeds more like 150mph (240km/h) in which case we could have London -> Glasgow and Edinburgh down to just 2 hours 30 minutes, as well as the capability for an extra 20 trains an hour. Also double decker trains could be run which cannot be run on existing lines because tunnels and bridges are too low.

How it affects Journey Times

Journey Distance Journey Time now Average speed now Journey Time in 2002 Average speed in 2002 Journey Time in 2005 Average speed in 2005
London-Glasgow 403 miles 645 km 5h 20mins 75 mph 120 km/h 4h 20mins 93mph 149 km/h 3h 50mins 105 mph 168 km/h
London-Liverpool 205 miles 328 km 2h 45mins 74 mph 118 km/h 2h 5mins 98mph 157 km/h 1h 55mins 107 mph 171 km/h
London-Manchester 185 miles 296 km 2h 20mins 80 mph 128 km/h 2h 93mph 149 km/h 1h 45mins 106 mph 170 km/h
London-Birmingham 118 miles 190 km 1h 40mins 71 mph 114 km/h 1h 15mins 94mph 150 km/h 1h 118 mph 190 km/h

The London to Birmingham train will average a speed of 118 mph which beats the east coast's current average speed of 112 mph so setting a new timetable record for the UK.

The East Coast for comparison

The east coast mainline is currently the fastest, most advanced railway line in the UK. Inter-City 225 trains reach speeds of up to 140 mph (225 km/h) along this, achieving very good average speeds and journey times:

Journey Distance Journey time Average Speed
London - York 187 miles (301km) 1h 41 mins 112 mph 180km/h
London - Newcastle 276 miles (442km) 2h 40 mins 104 mph 166km/h
London - Edinburgh 372 miles (595km) 3h 59 mins 94 mph 149km/h

The London to York is currently the fastest scheduled train in the UK with an average speed of 112 mph

The average speed decreases the further north because the area below Edinburgh is very mountainous and the railways have more curves, which means the trains are limited to more modest speeds.

See also:

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