19 Mar 2010

More on the Chiltern Line option

High Speed Rail Command Paper (the official DfT report which you can download from the link on the right hand side of the web page) repays close study. One of the interesting things to be found there is the list of other options have actually been considered, including development of the Chiltern Line. This consists of five "packages", which are described in Table 2.1 of the document, which is reproduced below.

Package 1 Extra long distance capacity delivered through the operation of longer trains on the West Coast Main Line (WCML) with platform lengthening and other infrastructure enhancements.

Package 2 Extra long distance capacity delivered through an increase in train service frequencies on the WCML with supporting infrastructure enhancements including extra platforms at Euston and Manchester Piccadilly stations, grade separation of junctions and 4-tracking sections of route.

Package 3 Building on package 2, the capacity and maximum speed of the Chiltern route between London and Birmingham is enhanced to allow fast WCML London – Birmingham trains to be diverted to the Chiltern Line, releasing capacity on the WCML for other services. Associated infrastructure enhancements include electrification, short new alignments, 4-tracking sections of route and additional platforms at Euston, Birmingham Moor St. and Manchester Piccadilly stations.

Package 4
Building on package 3, London – Birmingham journey times are reduced to a minimum through further infrastructure enhancements including a new alignment between the Chiltern Line and the WCML in the Kenilworth area.

Package 5
Building on package 4, additional capacity is provided between Birmingham and Stafford to enable WCML services between London and the North West to be diverted to the Chiltern route, releasing capacity on the WCML for other services. Associated infrastructure enhancements include 4-tracking the route between Birmingham and Stafford and further 4-tracking of the Chiltern route.

Projects worth supporting
These projects, taken together, would lead to very substantial increases in capacity. They are worth supporting. If the upgrades were carried out in conjunction with other projects to provide alternative routes, disruption to existing services could be minimised.

It is unfortunate that in the overwhelming desire to construct a 250mph railway, these low-risk developments have been passed over. They could commence sooner rather than later and would clearly provide excellent value for money in their own right since they follow the busy M40 corridor.

It is to be hoped that these options will be re-examined before long as part of the alternative to the high speed line.


  1. Covered in much more detail in the Atkins Road and Rail Alternative Study:


    At the above link, try the Strategic Outline Case and for more detail, the Rail Interventions Report.

  2. The diagrams in the Strategic Outline report page 77 onwards are interesting. Paddington - Birmingham would be covered in 64 minutes.

    The Atkins report isn't as positive about these upgrades as you are though. Significant upgrades will have a significant environmental impact on the Chilterns - the Chiltern line upgrade would involve a tunnel to avoid High Wycombe and a 125mph cut off line at Princes Risborough. The capacity upgrades would also be less - for a major Chiltern Line + WCML upgrade , around a 100% increase in capacity, compared with a 200% increase for a new high speed or conventional line (according to the Command Paper).

    The costs would also be very high - package 4 £15 billion, package 5 £19 billion - as expensive as a new line!

  3. Thanks for these comments. It looks as if it is one of those situations where much benefit, expecially capacity, can be gained at relatively low cost, but all the benefit is very expensive. It becomes increasingly expensive to shave-off additional minutes the schedule.

    fFrom what you say, it looks as if package 3 is as far is it should go. But why avoid High Wycombe? It is an important centre in its own right. Since there is a speed restriction, all trains may as well call there and provide a service in both directions.

    Construction costs are not the entire story. A 125mph railway is very much cheaper to equip and operate than one running at double the speed, and the benefits can be achieved incrementally - there is no need to wait for the entire project to be finished.