19 Jan 2010

Britain's spare main lines

One of the reasons given for building a new high speed line is that there is a shortage of capacity. Yet there are a several main lines that are well below capacity and could be reinstated without too much trouble.

London to Birmingham
The old Great Western route from London to Birmingham branches off the main line to Bristol at Acton, and then runs via High Wycombe and Bicester to Banbury, Leamington and Warwick to Birmingham Snow Hill. This was a shortening of the Great Western's original main line to Birmingham, which diverged from the Bristol line at Didcot and ran to Banbury via Oxford. The line via High Wycombe and Bicester has just been restored to double track. In the past, there was keen competition for traffic on the Great Western and West Coast routes between London and Birmingham, and there remains plenty of spare capacity on the Western route, which is not electrified.

London to Manchester
On this axis the competing routes were the West Coast route via Rugby and the Midland via Derby. The direct Midland route was closed between Matlock and Buxton is closed and used as a footpath and at present, trains between Derby and Manchester have to make a detour via Dore and Totley. At one time, the Midland had four tracks between London and Toton in Nottinghamshire. One pair of tracks was for passenger trains and the other was for slow coal trains. The second route was at a distance from the passenger route. If the spare route has not been built over, this represents potential spare capacity. The Midland is not electrified north of Bedford and there are no firm plans to go ahead with the work.

The Great Central
This is a spine route running from London via Aylesbury, Rugby, Leicester and Nottingham to Sheffield and Manchester. It has been removed between Aylesbury and Nottingham, apart from a stretch near Loughborough which is run as a museum railway. Much of the line of route remains intact.

The Settle and Carlisle
Running north-south on the western flank of the Pennines, in the 1980s this line was threatened with closure. This was successfully opposed. Eventually the line was thoroughly renewed and it is now an important route for freight, providing relief to the main West Coast route from Preston. The line has connections from Leeds in the south. It is not electrified and this has not been proposed.

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