Posted 23rd November 2016 | 6 Comments

Funding for East West rail and Digital Railway

THE Chancellor has confirmed funding worth £110 million for the development of East West Rail between Oxford and Bedford.

£450 million will also be spent on trials of digital signalling, which is intended to expand capacity and improve reliability.

Among smaller awards, there is to be £5 million to help develop the Midlands Rail Hub. The Chancellor Philip Hammond said the cash was to allow an evaluation study to go ahead.

This news has been welcomed in Birmingham, where the city's largest station at New Street is running out of capacity. Although the recent 'Grand Central' rebuilding at ground level has provided a much larger concourse, the subsurface platforms are still a pinch point.

The Midland Rail Hub is a programme of rail upgrades in and around central Birmingham to provide up to 10 additional trains an hour, and is overseen by Midlands Connect, which is a partnership of 28 local authorities, 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships, Network Rail, Highways England, HS2 Ltd and businesses.

Cllr Roger Lawrence, who is the lead member for transport at the West Midlands Combined Authorities, said: “This commitment by the Chancellor to the Midlands Rail Hub recognises the key economic role of the West Midlands as the heart of the Midlands Engine and as the hub of the UK's rail network.

“The £5 million announced today will allow Midlands Connect to accelerate the feasibility work on the enhancements to the railway required to accommodate these additional services and maximise the benefits of the arrival of HS2 across the Midlands.

“Midlands Rail Hub will enable 10 additional trains an hour in and out of Birmingham, improving connectivity for passengers and businesses between key economic centres across both the East and West Midlands and add freight capacity into our key container hubs at Birmingham, Hams Hall and Birch Coppice.”

TfWM managing director Laura's Shoaf added: “The rail network into Birmingham New Stret station is effectively at capacity and Midlands Rail Hub will allow new services to be provided not just on our key intercity routes but also to local centres.”

The Chancellor also confirmed that Transport for the North will continue to work with the Department for Transport on the development of the Northern Powerhouse rail network to 'revolutionise' the region’s railways.

TfN chair John Cridland said, “We know the North currently lags behind the rest of England in terms of productivity but has huge potential. The new Northern Powerhouse Strategy highlights evidence from our Northern Powerhouse Independent Economic Review, published earlier this year, which identified that with the right investment in infrastructure and skills development, by 2050 the North’s economy would be worth £97 billion more than if it carried on developing at the current rate. That’s a huge prize, not just for the North but for the whole of the United Kingdom, and we are pleased that the government has recognised its importance.”

However, doubts have been expressed about whether the new wider transport investment announced by the Chancellor will be enough or is even being spent in the right way. James Stamp, head of transport at KPMG UK, said: “Today the Chancellor announced funding for more road and rail capacity. Specific improvements, such as alleviating road network pinch-points, and the Midlands Rail Hub, are welcome, as is the positive sentiment about Crossrail 2.

“However, even with investment in specific schemes, a stark fact remains: demand for transportation will always be ahead of our ability to pour more concrete. Making more from the capacity we have is – and will stay – key. Without this, congestion will remain a limiting factor on productivity."

Reader Comments:

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

  • bassman, High Wycombe

    Great idea Calvert.The Sandy route will be hugely expensive and will not open until 2031 at the earliest. Peterborugh route will require re-instatement of the S-E Manton spur plus upgrading track and signalling from Corby to West of Stamford, should take no more than a year after Bicester-Bletchley work completed, thus opening about 10 years before Sandy route. You still will have connections with ECML.MML, WCML,Chiltern and GWML (assuming trains start back from Swindon or Bristol. An hourly limited stop Oxford -Peterborough should be possible in around 2 hours supplemented by an hourly stopping service from ?Aylesbury.This compares favourabley with existing rail routes, either via Brmingham NS or Marylebone/ Paddington. Cambridge could be reached from Oxford in around 150 mins. with stops at Ely and Cambridge North only, which does not compare with EWR aspiration of 100 minutes. However if a Oxford- Cambridge expressway is to be built, how many people will want to travel the entire rail route? Peterborough is always going to be a better interchange than Sandy and will be faster than a road journey (city centre to city centre) unless you are travelling in the middle of the night and able to average 70 mph on the motorways.

  • Terry Smith, Falmouth

    Another alternative might be to restore the seven-mile section between Bedford and Sandy - much of which is still intact - where it could join the East Coast Main Line, gaining access to Cambridge via a spur on to the Cambridge branch a mile or so to the north of Hitchin. This would allow passengers to and from Hitchin to access the East-West route via a simple interchange at Letchworth.
    It would certainly be a lot cheaper than forging an entirely new trajectory between Sandy and Cambridge, much of the previous track-bed having been built on. It could also then serve the growing conurbation of Biggleswade, without any great increase in journey times over those provided by a more direct route.

  • Leo, London

    There is no clarification as to what this "digital signalling" will entail. The best detail I can find is that it would be like the signalling used for France's TGV. The TGV predominantly uses TVM430 but is gradually replacing that for ERTMS, the European standard.

    ERTMS is no stranger to the UK after the trial on the Cambrian Line and its current rollout for Thameslink and Crossrail. Why, then, call it "trials" for a new signalling system if that is already live in the UK?

    Could the chancellor be referring to new trials at existing lines?

  • Terry Smith, Falmouth

    Another less costly alternative might be to restore the link between Bedford and Sandy where it can join the east Coast main Line southbound before joining the Cambridge line via a spur north of Hitchin station. Passengers to and from Hitchin could then take advantage of the rout via a simple interchange at Letchworth. Much of the route between Bedford and Sandy is intact, although I appreciate that a new junction and flyover to the north of Sandy would be needed. Nevertheless, I honestly believe that such an option wouldn't involve greatly increased journey times between Sandy and Cambridge and would surely be cheaper than forging a new twenty mile route through virgin countryside from Sandy eastwards as much of the original track-bed has been built on.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    Whenever I see a map of the closed East West link I notice the closed line which used to connect Hitchin to Bedford and wonder why this link is not included in re-opening plans given it would allow Thameslink to reach Bedford via both MML and ECML and more importantly provide a link between the ECML and MML which could be useful in diverting freight off the congested ECML . This link might also speed up the opening of an East West link given that a new route is needed at the Cambridge end of the EWR and this link could provide a temporary solution.

  • claydon william, Norwich, Norfolk

    Presumably, all this money is to be spent on new high-level platforms at Bletchley for better WCML connectivity ?

    Has anyone looked at installing a new SE chord at Manton Jnc; (between Stamford & Oakham); allowing non-stop operation between Bedford & Cambridge to temporarily 'bridge the Oxford-Cambridge gap' ?