RAILTRACK finally announced on December 15 that its flagship project to modernise the West Coast Main Line linking London with Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow by 2005 is going to cost £5·8bn. This is 176% more than the £2·1bn previously stated. The original total comprised £1·35bn of ’core investment’ (now £3·8bn) to replace assets in ’modern equivalent form’, £150m on upgrading key routes to 200 km/h by 2002, and £600m on a further upgrade to 225 km/h between London and Crewe by 2005. (The upgrades will now cost £2·0bn.)

There are three fundamental reasons why the cost has risen so dramatically: a general failure to budget adequately for renewal of track and catenary; a regulatory requirement to provide more capacity for freight and passenger growth; and most serious of all, a disastrous miscalculation that ETCS Level 3 moving block would be developed in time to allow the elimination by 2005 of lineside signals and track circuits that are mostly 35 to 40 years old.

The principal project to increase freight capacity requires 40 km of additional track to quadruple more of the Trent Valley line, particularly Tamworth to Armitage.

Watford Junction will get two extra platforms to avoid delays when Virgin trains stop there in quick succession, and as a separately-funded project, a flyover at Hanslope will allow Silverlink’s proposed tilting commuter trains to exploit the 225 km/h tracks.

These enhancements should at least bring extra revenue for Railtrack; postponing Level 3 train control indefinitely is another matter. It means that Railtrack must now fund renewal of most conventional lineside signalling south of Manchester and Liverpool, as well as installing a mix of ETCS Level 2 from London to Crewe and Level 1 on to Glasgow for automatic train protection.

Because these decisions have been left so late, most of this extra work must be done between 2002 and 2005 when Virgin was expecting to run a faster, more frequent, and above all more reliable service with its new fleet of tilting trains.

The disruption which works on this scale are bound to cause means that Railtrack must add to the capital cost a massive bill for compensation to Virgin and other operators. n

CAPTION: Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson and Stagecoach Holdings Executive Chairman Brian Souter unveiled the first Pendolino driving car at Alstom’s Washwood Heath plant on December 14. Two bodyshells have been delivered from Fiat for fitting out; the pre-series train is due to be ready for test running in July. The 44 eight-car and 9 nine-car series trainsets are to be delivered between July 2001 and the end of 2002, requiring a peak delivery rate of 10 shells per week