To rail services this year. The Freight Transport Association has today (27 March) urged Network Rail to extend the deadline for the completion of the modernisation of the West Coast Main Line (WCML) in order to avoid increasing disruption to freight and passenger services this year on that route.
This comes in response to a Network Rail consultation on a revised programme to complete the modernisation of WCML by the end of 2008. This revised programme has been required due to the engineering works that occurred over the Christmas/New Year period – which had such adverse consequences for freight users and for passengers.
In order to ensure the works are completed by the end of 2008, Network Rail is proposing to increase the amount of time it takes 'possession' of the track – ie extending the amount of time it is out of use for freight and passenger services. This will see weekend possessions extended into Mondays and Tuesdays, bank holiday possessions extended all week, and even some fortnight-long possessions on parts of the network.
FTA's Head of Rail Freight Policy, Christopher Snelling commented, 'The West Coast Main Line carries over 40 per cent of Britain's rail freight traffic – it is a vital link in the UK's supply chain. Freight interests will be heavily impacted if these kind of extended possessions come into effect.'
FTA has urged Network Rail to adopt the alternative plan it outlines in its consultation document – to extend the completion of the WCML modernisation to May next year (referred to as Option C in the document). Snelling said, 'This would allow possessions to be carried out at less disruptive times, reducing the effect on freight and passenger services this year.'
Virgin Trains, the main passenger service operator on the WCML (whose services will also be the main beneficiary of the modernisation), have also opposed Network Rail's plans, and similarly called for completion to be extended to May next year. This is partly due to fears over disruption to passenger services, but also to the need for sufficient time to complete the training of drivers for the modernised route. The training time available will be reduced if Network Rail extends its possessions in the way currently proposed.
Snelling concluded, 'Given that freight and passenger operators agree the best thing is to re-phase the completion of the modernisation, Network Rail needs to take a difficult decision in the best interests of the rail industry as a whole. To press ahead with the December completion date will cause unnecessary levels of disruption to freight and passenger services.'