West Coast Main Line: the story

Uploaded by NetworkRailMedia on 31.05.2009

West Coast Main Line is the main high
speed route between London and Glasgow.
West Coast Main Line is a major rail
artery, probably the most important rail
artery in the country.
It carries around 75 million people a
year and we operate around about 2,500
trains every day.
It's a vital part of our infrastructure.
It serves the great economic
and industrial centres.
Links them together. London,
the Midlands, the North-West
and the Scottish Central Belt.
Any railway line provides huge
challenges to engineers. In the
19th Century, particularly when the
West Coast Main Line was being built the
challenge was simply working out the
best way to construct lines:
What was the best route?
What was the best way to bore
through these hills?
To build viaducts across these ravines?
When we look at the people who designed
and built what we now call the
West Coast Main Line it does read like
a "Who's Who?" of British engineering.
Joseph Locke did the line from
Grand Junction down from
Manchester/Liverpool to Birmingham.
Robert Stephenson the London-Birmingham,
Thomas Gooch did the Trent Valley, and
Locke finished the line from
Lancaster up to Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The West Coast Main Line was chosen for
the first great modernisation, the
electrification which was completed in
the 1960s and brought immediately the
so-called "sparks effect". A massive
growth of traffic coming to the new,
much faster services which struck the
public imagination.
Old things, old ways, ingrained into
our lives have given place to new.
Over the last 40 years,
that initial work has simply become
out-dated. It's lived its life,
it's done well,
it now needs replacement.
The West Coast Project is all about
enhancements and renewal of the
railway from London to Manchester,
London to Birmingham and
London up to Glasgow.
That included remodelling of areas like
Rugby, Milton Keynes, Trent Valley.
Well, when we arrived in October 2002
the project was in a state of disarray.
At that time the forecast cost to
complete was some £13-14 billion
and it was a project that essentially
bankrupted RailTrack.
The modernisation programme's had a
chequered history. When RailTrack first
set it up, the arrangement that had been
agreed with Virgin, the train operator,
was essentially not deliverable.
RailTrack went into administration,
Network Rail took over to come up with
a plan that was going to be deliverable.
The West Coast Mail Line was not built
as an entity. The West Coast Main Line,
although we talk of it as an entity,
in fact is made up of all sorts of
little bits and pieces built to serve
different purposes. So if you take
London to Glasgow for example,
that's made up of lines of I think
it's 12 separate railway companies at
one stage or another. And part of the
problem which the people modernising
it ever afterwards have had to face is
the points where those company's lines
come together.
The West Coast Main Line is a major rail
artery, probably the most important rail
artery in the country.
It carries around 75 million people a
year, and we operate around 2,500
trains every day.
Unless we spend huge amounts of money,
even with the West Coast modernisation,
we're constrained by the track layout
that's been set over the last 200 years.
Afresh, you might do it differently.
Literally it's like surgery. We have to
dismantle the railway,
rebuild it and hand it back to
operating trains exactly when we say
we're going to do that.
If you're working on a busy railway like
the West Coast Main Line, you require
access to the railway which can't be
given all the time. It can only be given
in certain slots and that enormously
complicates work you're trying to do.
To rebuild a railway while you keep it
operating Monday-Friday, work on the
weekend requires a significant amount
of planning, management and hard work.
On each railway there often were
individual obstacles that had to be
overcome and which required very clever
engineering. Kilsby Tunnel, for example.
Unfortunately, from Stephenson's point
of view, no-one had experience of
building a railway on that scale before.
He had to modify the design as we went
along and Kilsby, in many ways, was an
absolute disaster. It went colossally
over budget because of those engineering
difficulties. There was a problem
it collapsing as well and people losing
their lives.
Every year we deliver 5000 projects and
this time last year we got one or two
projects wrong and we saw an
enormous impact on the public.
We have to make sure we're working
safely so often we turn overhead line
power off in order to do works
and therefore you can't run trains
during that period.
Confidence in the project after the
overrun at Rugby last Christmas was low.
But the team looked at that very much in
an objective way in terms of what needed
to be done last year and literally they
planned the project, they pulled the
plan to pieces, they re-planned it, they
pulled it to pieces again and put in
place a plan we knew we could deliver.
We learned from that and that helped us
deliver a significant amount of work
in 2008.
We changed what we do and how we do it.
We plan in even more meticulous detail.
As we got more successes we got through
various commissionings, we started to
gain momentum as we went
through the year.
The 19th Century origins of the
West Coast Main Line do present real
challenges to today's engineers and
operators because those early engineers
built bridges and tunnels which were
smaller than was later was to become the
standard. Also routes which twisted more
than we might like today. But as trains
have got faster for all sorts of reasons
those curves do present us with a
problem: how to basically operate the
trains successfully.
There's no straight track
on the West Coast.
That is very important for what
we did in that in order to increase the
line speeds on this particular main line
we had to introduce tilting trains.
We worked 94 million man-hours
on this project.
At its peak we were spending over
£4 million a day every day.
We have renewed or repaired 174 bridges.
We've renewed over
3 million yards of track.
Over 830 switches and crossings.
The job was costed at over £13 billion
and we've managed to deliver it for
under £9 billion.
Every weekend, every major commissioning
was a challenge that the guys delivered.
I think it's a tremendous achievement
that the West Coast Main Line
has been modernised.
That is a different kind of challenge to
the one that people like
Robert Stephenson and Joseph Locke had.
In that respect, we've moved on.
It is difficult to operate a
21st century railway with a
19th century route structure and
infrastructure. And my hat off to the
engineers and operators who make it
possible to make the West Coast
Main Line what it is today.
It's been a huge success. People
underestimate the scale, size and
complexity of trying to modernise an,
essentially, Victorian railway.
Both passengers and freight users have
got a really modern, reliable, super
railway to benefit for them many years.
People can now go to Manchester in under
2 hours, there's an hour off the journey
to Glasgow and we've got thousands more
seats each and every day. I genuinely
believe the passenger experience has
been transformed over the last 5 years.
The scale of a project like West Coast
increases our profile and it also
enables us to have more confidence in
future regarding project delivery.
I think the railway's having a
renaissance. Over the last few years
we've seen more people wanting to use
the railways, more investment being made
available into the railways.
There's a very bright future.
We've got an investment programme now of
£20 billion over the next 5 years.
That involves thinks like Thameslink,
interfacing to CrossRail.
Our credibility and confidence to
deliver those is really bolstered by the
success on the West Coast project.
We're very, very proud about it and I'm
very proud of the 5000 or so people
who worked 7 days a week for the
last 7 years to deliver what has been a
huge engineering challenge.