Rail boss apologises for two months of hell as £9bn investment unveiled
The boss of the region’s railway network apologised “unreservedly” for two months of hell endured by commuters this winter – but promised a stunning future in which passengers can travel from the region to the heart of London in little more than an hour.
Patrick Hallgate, the route managing director for Network Rail in the West, today unveils a five-year plan to invest £9 billion in the rail infrastructure from Paddington to Bristol and beyond – the biggest single investment in the railways since the Victorian era.
That programme, planned for the five years between 2014 and 2019, includes schemes announced before – the electrification of the Great Western mainline and the redoubling of the main line into Gloucestershire from Swindon – alongside an all-round package to improve the service in and around Bristol, and create faster services to London.
Coupled with the creation of the CrossRail network in London, the vision of a non-stop 90-minute commute from the heart of Bristol to the City of London looks closer to reality than ever before.
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Mr Hallgate said the aim was to increase the capacity of the network by 50 per cent in the next two decades – an ambitious plan, given the routes into Paddington from the West contain the most overcrowded trains in the country.
Passenger numbers have already increased by 42 per cent in the past ten years, but Mr Hallgate said the investment announced today would help reduce cost and make train travel more efficient.
The plan includes a new rail link to Heathrow from the West, links with CrossRail, doubling the main line into Bristol at Filton Bank from two tracks to four, enabling fast services to overtake and massive improvements at Reading station, seen as the main ‘bottleneck’.
The economic impact of such a service could be far-reaching, massively increasing the commutable distance.
Mr Hallgate said: “This will deliver the biggest investment in the Great Western main line since it was built 175 years ago. Managing what is essentially a Victorian railway is becoming increasingly difficult and this programme of investment will bring it firmly into the 21st century.
“The improvements will deliver huge benefits to passengers but there will inevitably be trade-offs which need to be made to deliver them. As the railway gets busier, the number of challenges increase and it becomes more complex than ever to run a reliable and cost-effective railway. As a result, we will increasingly have to balance the needs to build and renew infrastructure, run trains on time and reduce costs.
“This plan will provide a bigger and better railway for passengers and help support and drive economic growth across the West. By the end of the decade, the Great Western main line will set the standard for 21st century rail travel in Britain and provide the capacity we need to cater for the continued increase in the popularity of rail travel,” he added.
Faster services could set back campaigns to reopen long-closed stations, such as at Wootton Bassett and Corsham, because rail managers may be even less inclined to either stop fast trains more often, or increase the number of slower trains on the line.
“I appreciate the past two months have been an absolute nightmare for passengers,” said Mr Hallgate. “The weather has been atrocious but we have had a lot of people working very hard to get the network back up and running again.
“It’s only just happened now – the last checks were done on Sunday by divers on the line near Barnstaple – and I would like to apologise unreservedly for the problems caused to people.”