Posted 26th June 2013 | 13 Comments

East Coast capacity boosted by new £47m link

CAPACITY on the East Coast Main Line is being boosted after the opening of a £47 million flyover which will eliminate conflicting movements on a key section of the route. The new structure takes Cambridge-bound trains over the rest of the main line at Hitchin, and has started to be used from today.

Some 300 drivers now need to gain route knowledge of the new 2km line, and it will not come into full use until the December timetable change.

However, a limited number of trains are being routed over the structure from now on, so that drivers can experience it for themselves.

The flyover takes down trains over the rest of the East Coast Main Line, avoiding the conflicting movements which have been blocking three tracks each time a Cambridge-bound train joined the branch just north of Hitchin station.

Network Rail has estimated that the flyover will reduce East Coast delay minutes by almost 30,000 a year.

Network Rail route managing director Phil Verster said: "The Hitchin flyover will make a real difference to passengers who travel on the East Coast Main Line, as well as people travelling to Cambridge and beyond. Improving the railway at Hitchin will solve the problems caused by the current track layout and help meet growing demand.

"The new layout means trains will run more reliably and punctually. The work we have done has cleared one of the major bottlenecks on the route and is part of our wider effort to improve performance and increase capacity.”

First Capital Connect director of operations Jackie Townsend added: "This flyover significantly reduces the risk of delays at one of Britain's busiest railway junctions. Passengers travelling north to Letchworth, Cambridge and King's Lynn will see fewer hold-ups as a result."

Flyovers have been used to increase capacity by reducing conflicting movements at railway junctions for more than a century. The first operator to make widespread use of them was the former Southern Railway, which installed flyovers at a number of locations in the 1920s and 1930s on its busy commuter network south of London.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Dr Adrian Morgan, Ripon

    The original report stated 600 drivers. It is worse if it takes five months to train only 300.
    [Apologies. The original report was in error, which is why it was corrected.–Editor.]

  • Dr Adrian Morgan, Ripon

    I have included Leamside reinstatement as extension of the Ripon reinstatement to divert daytime freight off the entire ECML between Peterborough and Newcastle in my submission to the DfT so I am with you on this. The full proposal is too long to mention here.

  • Andrew Gwilt, Wickford

    Well what about opening the incline in August instead of December to boost up the ECML and take out the tracks at Hitchin station which once caused the bottleneck.

    What about Colton Junction cus thats also a bottleneck as diesel trains goes to Leeds from York.

    (Our report does explain that the flyover is open now but cannot be used for all trains until December because 300 drivers must acquire route knowledge, which takes time.--Editor.)

  • Hugh, Leeds

    The flat crossing of two busy lines north of Newark causes huge delays to both passenger and freight and should be replaced by a flyover as soon as possible.

  • Paul Hepworth, YORK

    I wonder whether we will ever see Newark Flat crossing eliminated? A planned single track flyover reached the signalling wiring design stage, before the government of the day pulled the financial plug. A road flyover was built instead....!
    York's electrification track layout was driven by the then new BR Sectors, who corporately refused to fund features that were operationally more flexible. There was to have been a centre line retained between the main platforms, with crossover connections. A useful ladder of crossovers at Dringhouses was scrapped because no sector support was forthcoming. Only recently has the three track south end bottleneck reverted to four tracks.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    Regarding the capacity issues at York, if it was just that I would advocate, at the very most, a York bypass for freight. All other things being equal, it's better to solve a problem with a short line than a long one.

    However, the argument line closures between York and Northallerton is a very good point. That is the bane of my travels, when something blocks the line, there's no alternative route north of York, and it's rail replacement bus time. A four-track line is, of course, no use when an incident necessitates closure of the entire line, and planned engineering work is a problem too.

    We could reduce the risk of line closures with suicide-proof fencing and replacement of the level crossings with bridges, and in my opinion these two things need doing no matter what. But the economic damage of line closures goes way beyond compensation claims. I'd say the availability of an alternative passenger route is probably the strongest argument in favour of a line through Ripon.

    (But as a Durham resident you won't persuade me to prioritise this over the Leamside line. Sorry.)

  • Dr Adrian Morgan, Ripon

    In the last year, York-Northallerton has been totally closed seven times due to fatalities for a period of over two hours each time. That has cost a total of £1 million in passenger claims each occasion being in excess of one hour late. Dewirement also causes closure of all four lines on this route. York-Harrogate-Northallerton was a diversion route prior to partial closure in 1967.

    Skelton and Skelton Bridge Junctions just to the north of York station are a real bottleneck where southbound freight has to cross both north and south fast lines to reach the York freight avoiding line very similar to Hitchin. Trains from Harrogate just add to the congestion and are frequently held on the branch waiting for a path into York. Momentarily four lines become two. Diverting freight away from this pinch point would improve the flow of passenger trains. A solution is needed here just as much as Hitchin, probably more so as there is much greater volume of slower moving freight than at the bottom end of the ECML.

    Access charges will be charged on the new line as on any line. Additional passenger trains post 2016 will pay charges to replace freight charges lost to the ECML.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    Hmm ... I can definitely see where you're coming from with this idea. We certainly know from the 2016 ECML capacity review that capacity is running out, and one way of relieving the capacity problem is to build a new freight line,and either run extra freight services, or divert existing services on to the new line and run more passenger services on the old line.

    As far as costs go, we can probably safely assume the cost will be just the construction cost. If we transfer existing rolling stock to the new route, the net rolling stock and operating costs should be roughly zero, possibly a saving if it relieves congestion. Not sure if track access charges would make much of a difference. Yes, you could charge it on the new line, but that would be offset by the lack of charge on the existing line. What we really need to look at is benefits.

    How does it do for benefits. Well, potentially, there could be more passenger services, more freight services, or a combination of both. I'd need a good look at the capacity review to think about what this could deliver. However, I can see one problem: there are worse bottlenecks elsewhere. York-Northallerton is four-tracked and not too bad, but Ferryhill-Newcastle is only double-tracked with no easy alternative route for freight. Until that is resolved (i.e. until the Leamside line is back), it may impossible to use extra capacity between York and Northallerton for anything useful. (Of course, if you include passenger services on the line too, that may improve the business case.)

    What I think this boils down to is that whilst there is a case for this line, it's not fair to use the Hitchin flyover as an example of bias. The Hitchin flyover is a no-brainer, because there was clear evidence that the lack of a flyover was directly suppressing capacity and reliability, and the flyover itself has no costs beyond construction. If it was a choice between £47m on a Hitchin flyover or £47m worth of freight line to relieve York-Northallerton, the Hithchin flyover wins hands down. But it's not an either/or choice - if a case can be made,there's no reason why we can't have both. Good luck with that.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    The reason we don't have level crossings on Motorways is because they are relatively new structures and were built with grade separation the biggest example being Graveley Interchange in Birmingham better known as Spaghetti Junction.

    Railways were built when roads were used by a few horse and carts and investment in schemes like this have been not funded by successive governments despite growth in road use !

    This scheme will allow trains to cross above ECML and therefore trains on that route won't suffer from as many red signals when using this stretch of line and might even be able to travel faster thus reducing journey times as well as creating more paths in longer term.

    As for calls to re-open lines well unless you run a shuttle service then schemes like this are needed first to create capacity for additional services to and from reopened branches and through routes !

  • Dr Adrian Morgan, Ripon

    I did not explain fully that the aim is to reinstate from Northallerton to Church Fenton via Harrogate, Wetherby and Tadcaster. This will connect to Pontefract and Doncaster and Peterborough via Lincoln so that daytime freight can be removed from the East Coast mainline freeing up space for more passenger paths needed post 2016. The freight, particularly MGR coal will pay for the line in access charges within 25 years.

    Leeds-Harrogate-Northallerton is 15 miles shorter than Leeds-York-Northallerton so Manchester-Newcastle Trans Pennine services will travel this way in slightly less time than via York and will restore trains to Ripon and through trains to Harrogate. Doe this answer the question on provision of rolling stock and operating costs?

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham, England

    "Coincidentally, £47m is just the amount reinstating the line from Ripon to Harrogate is costed at. Can the DfT be persuaded to invest in this?"

    I have some sympathy with the argument to get a line back to Ripon, but there's more to he decision than the construction costs. The other big two factors are rolling stock and running costs. On main lines, the revenue from fares normally covers both these costs easily. On commuter or rural lines, it's not necessarily so.

    Don't get me wrong - I'd love to have services back to Ripon (even better if they go on to Northallerton). But you must be aware that it's not as simple as finding £47m for construction costs.

  • Dr Adrian Morgan, Ripon

    Should have been done years ago. Will it really take six months to train 600 drivers with route knowledge? A couple of signals and short length of what 40 or 50 mph single track?

    Coincidentally, £47m is just the amount reinstating the line from Ripon to Harrogate is costed at. Can the DfT be persuaded to invest in this? You bet not.Those that have, receive more. Those that have nothing still have nothing.

  • Michael, London

    Typical of UK construction...
    Fact: Construction complete and operationally functional.
    From say the next day after it is open for traffic...
    ALL traffic on the Cambridge route should be using it!

    Waiting 6 months, Only in UK!
    There is a level crossing on the Nottingham to Lincoln line, it has also been a bottleneck for 100 years or longer. Why has it not also been converted to a Fly over? Oh but even if it was to be - it would be 6 to 12 months before trains would be using it.

    We do not do level crossing on Motorways, we should eliminate them on our railway network. ALL could be eliminated in less than 12 months.
    If China can build a 1400 MILE HSL from Beijing to near HK in less than 5 years. We cant built a fly over or 100 mile HS2 in 30 years.