West Coast Main Line

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West Coast Main Line
WCML and M1.jpg
The WCML running alongside the M1 at Watford Gap
Overview
Type Commuter rail, Intercity rail
High Speed Rail, Heavy rail
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale Greater London
North West England
South East England
West Midlands
Scotland
Termini London Euston
51°31′43″N 0°08′07″W / 51.5285°N 0.1353°W / 51.5285; -0.1353 (London terminus)
Liverpool Lime Street
53°24′27″N 2°58′42″W / 53.4075°N 2.9784°W / 53.4075; -2.9784 (Liverpool terminus)
Manchester Piccadilly
53°28′37″N 2°13′48″W / 53.477°N 2.230°W / 53.477; -2.230 (North West terminus)
Edinburgh Waverley
55°57′08″N 3°11′21″W / 55.9521°N 3.1893°W / 55.9521; -3.1893 (Scottish terminus)
Glasgow Central
55°51′31″N 4°15′28″W / 55.8585°N 4.2579°W / 55.8585; -4.2579 (Scottish terminus)
Stations 51
Operation
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Virgin Trains
East Coast
London Midland
Southern
CrossCountry
First TransPennine Express
Northern Rail
Arriva Trains Wales
First ScotRail
DB Schenker Rail (UK)
GB Railfreight
Freightliner Ltd
Direct Rail Services Ltd (DRS)
Rolling stock Class 390 "Pendolino"
Class 90
Class 91
Class 142 Pacer
Class 150 Sprinter
Class 153
Class 156 SuperSprinter
Class 158
Class 175 "Coradia"
Class 185 "Pennine"
Class 221 "Super Voyager"
Class 220 "Voyager"
Class 318
Class 321
Class 334 "Juniper"
Class 350 "Desiro"
Class 377 "Electrostar"
Class 380 "Desiro"
Technical
Line length 399 mi (642 km)[1]
No. of tracks Double track-Quadruple track-Six track
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)
Loading gauge W10
Electrification 25kV 50Hz AC OHLE
Operating speed 125 mph (201 km/h) maximum[2]
Route map
Edinburgh Waverleyfor ECML
Haymarket
Glasgow Central (Glasgow Subway St Enoch)
Motherwell
Carstairs
Carstairs South Junction
Lockerbie
Scotland / England
Carlislefor Tyne Valley Line,
   Cumbrian Coast Line and
   Glasgow South Western Line
Penrith
Oxenholme Lake District
    for Windermere Line
Lancaster
Preston
Euxton Junction
Wigan North Western
Bolton
Warrington Bank Quay
Liverpool Lime Street Merseyrail
Runcorn
Weaver Junction
Acton Bridge
Hartford
Winsford
Manchester Piccadilly Manchester Metrolink
Holyheadon North Wales Coast Line
Stockport
Chester Merseyrail
Crewe North Junction Cheadle Hulme Junction
Macclesfield
Crewe
Stoke-on-Trent
Norton Bridge Junction Stone Junction
Stafford
Colwich Junction
Lichfield Trent Valley
Wolverhampton
Tamworth
Birmingham New Street
Birmingham International
Nuneaton
Coventry
Rugby for Birmingham Loop
Hillmorton Junction
Long Buckby
Northampton
Hanslope Junction
Wolverton
Milton Keynes Central
Bletchley
Leighton Buzzard
Cheddington
Tring
Berkhamstead
Hemel Hempstead
Apsley
Kings Langley
Watford Junction London Overground
Bushey London Overground
Harrow & Wealdstone London Underground London Overground
Wembley Central London Underground London Overground
London Euston London Underground London Overground

The West Coast Main Line (WCML) is a major inter-city railway route in the United Kingdom. It is Britain's most important rail backbone in terms of population served. The route links Greater London, the West Midlands, the North West, North Wales and the Central Belt of Scotland. Since an upgrade in recent years, much of the line has trains running at 125 mph (201 km/h), thereby meeting the European Union's definition of an upgraded high-speed line.[3]

The WCML is the most important intercity rail passenger route in the United Kingdom, connecting the major cities of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh which have a combined metropolitan population of over 24 million people. In addition, several sections of the WCML form part of the suburban railway systems in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, with many more smaller commuter stations, as well as providing a number of links to more rural towns. In 2008 the WCML handled 75 million passenger journeys.[4]

The WCML is also one of the busiest freight routes in Europe, carrying 43% of all UK rail freight traffic.[4] The line is the principal rail freight corridor linking the European mainland (via the Channel Tunnel) through London and South East England to the West Midlands, North West England and Scotland.[5] The line has been declared a strategic European route and designated a priority Trans-European Networks (TENS) route.

Geography[edit]

Central to the WCML is its 399-mile (642 km)-long core section between London Euston and Glasgow Central[1] with principal InterCity stations at Watford Junction, Milton Keynes, Rugby, Nuneaton, Stafford, Crewe, Warrington, Wigan, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme, Penrith, Carlisle and Motherwell.

A simplified diagram of the WCML (in black) in relation to the other main north–south railway routes
The northern WCML as it weaves through the Lune Gorge in Cumbria alongside the M6 Motorway.

This central core core[6] has expanded into a complex system of branches and divergences serving also the major towns and cities of Northampton, Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Macclesfield, Stockport, Manchester, Runcorn, and Liverpool; there is also a link to Edinburgh, but this is not the direct route between London and Edinburgh.[7]

The WCML is not a single railway; rather it can be thought of as a network of routes which diverge and rejoin the central core between London and Glasgow. The route between Rugby and Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Stafford was the original main line until the shorter line was built in 1847 via the Trent Valley. South of Rugby there is a loop that serves Northampton, and there is also a branch north of Crewe to Liverpool which is notable since Weaver Junction on this branch is the oldest flyover-type junction in use. Among the other diversions are loops that branch off to serve Manchester, one between Colwich Junction in the Trent Valley south of Stafford via Stoke-on-Trent, one north of Stafford also via Stoke-on-Trent, and one via Crewe and Wilmslow. A further branch at Carstairs links Edinburgh to the WCML, providing a direct connection between the WCML and the East Coast Main Line.

Because of opposition by landowners along the route, in places some railway lines were built so that they avoided large estates and rural towns, and to reduce construction costs the railways followed natural contours, resulting in many curves and bends. The WCML also passes through some hilly areas, such as the Chilterns (Tring cutting), the Watford Gap and Northampton uplands followed by the Trent Valley, the mountains of Cumbria with a summit at Shap, and Beattock Summit in southern Lanarkshire. This legacy of gradients and curves, and the fact that it was not originally conceived as a single trunk route, means the WCML was never ideal as a long-distance main line, with lower maximum speeds than the East Coast Main Line (ECML) route, the other major main line between London to Scotland.

In recent decades, the principal solution to the problem of the WCML's curvaceous line of route has been the adoption of tilting trains, formerly British Rail's APT, and latterly the Class 390 Pendolino trains constructed by Alstom and introduced by Virgin Trains in 2003. A 'conventional' attempt to raise line speeds as part of the InterCity 250 upgrade in the 1990s would have relaxed maximum cant levels on curves and seen some track realignments; this scheme faltered for lack of funding in the economic climate of the time.

History[edit]

Early history[edit]

The WCML was not originally conceived as a single trunk route, but was a number of separate lines built by different companies between the 1830s and the 1880s. After the completion of the successful Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830, schemes were mooted to build more inter-city lines. The business practice of the early railway era was for companies to promote individual lines between two destinations, rather than to plan grand networks of lines, as it was easier to obtain backing from investors. And so this is how the early stages of the WCML evolved.

The first stretch of what is now the WCML was the Grand Junction Railway connecting the Liverpool and Manchester to Birmingham, via Crewe, Stafford and Wolverhampton opening in 1837. The following year the London and Birmingham Railway was completed, connecting to the capital via Coventry, Rugby and the Watford Gap. The Grand Junction and London and Birmingham railways both shared a Birmingham terminus at Curzon Street station; meaning it was now possible to travel by train between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool[8][9]

'3020 Cornwall', an early LNWR express locomotive (built 1847, as running circa 1890)

These lines, together with the Trent Valley Railway (between Rugby and Stafford, avoiding Birmingham), and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway, (Crewe-Manchester), amalgamated operations in 1846 to form the London and North Western Railway (LNWR). Three other sections, the North Union Railway (Wigan-Preston), the Lancaster and Preston Junction Railway and the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway were later absorbed by the LNWR.

North of Carlisle, the Caledonian Railway remained independent, and opened its main line from Carlisle to Beattock on 10 September 1847, connecting to Edinburgh in February 1848, and to Glasgow in November 1849.[10]

Another important section, the North Staffordshire Railway (NSR), which opened its route in 1848 from Macclesfield (connecting with the LNWR from Manchester) to Stafford and Colwich via Stoke-on-Trent also remained independent. Poor relations between the LNWR and the NSR meant that through trains did not run until 1867.[11]

The route to Scotland was marketed by the LNWR as 'The Premier Line'. Because the cross-border trains ran over the LNWR and Caledonian Railway, through trains consisted of jointly owned "West Coast Joint Stock" to simplify operations.[12] The first direct London to Glasgow trains in the 1850s took 12.5 hours to complete the 400-mile (640 km) journey.[13]

The final sections of what is now the WCML were put in place over the following decades by the LNWR. A direct branch to Liverpool, bypassing the earlier Liverpool and Manchester line was opened in 1869, from Weaver Junction north of Crewe to Ditton Junction via the Runcorn Railway Bridge over the River Mersey.[14]

To expand capacity, the line between London and Rugby was widened to four tracks in the 1870s. As part of this, a new line, the Northampton Loop was built, opening in 1881, connecting Northampton before rejoining the main line at Rugby.[9]

The worst ever rail accident in UK history; the Quintinshill rail disaster, occurred on the WCML during World War I, on 22 May 1915, between Glasgow Central and Carlisle, in which 227 were killed and 246 injured.

LMS era[edit]

The Coronation Scot in 1937. Hauled by a streamlined Coronation Class locomotive.

The whole of the present route came under the control of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS) on 1 January 1923 when railway companies were grouped, under the Railways Act 1921.

During the grouping era the LMS competed fiercely with the rival London and North Eastern Railway's East Coast Main Line for London to Scotland traffic (see Race to the North). Attempts were made to minimise end-to-end journey times for a small number of powerful lightweight trains that could be marketed as glamorous premium crack expresses, especially between London and Glasgow, such as the 1937–39 Coronation Scot, hauled by streamlined Princess Coronation Class locomotives, which made the journey in 6 hours 30 minutes,[15] making it competitive with the rival East Coast Flying Scotsman.

War-ravaged British Railways in the 1950s could not match this, but did achieve a London-Glasgow timing of 7 hours 15 minutes in the 1959–60 timetable by strictly limiting the number of coaches to eight and not stopping between London and Carlisle.[16]

British Rail era[edit]

In 1947, following nationalisation, the line came under the control of British Railways' London Midland and Scottish Regions, when the term "West Coast Main Line" came into use officially,[citation needed] although it had been used informally since at least 1912.[17] However, it is something of a misnomer as the line only physically touches the coast on a brief section overlooking Morecambe Bay between Lancaster and Carnforth for barely half a mile.

Modernisation by British Rail[edit]

Following the 1955 modernisation plan, the line was modernised and electrified in stages between 1959 and 1974. The first stretch to be electrified was Crewe to Manchester, completed on 12 September 1960. This was followed by Crewe to Liverpool, completed on 1 January 1962. Electrification was then extended southwards to London. The first electric trains from London ran on 12 November 1965, but full public service did not start until 18 April the following year. Electrification of the Birmingham line was completed on 6 March 1967. In March 1970 the government gave approval to electrification of the northern section between Weaver Junction (where the route to Liverpool diverges) and Glasgow, and this was completed on 6 May 1974.[6][18]

Once electrification was complete between London, the West Midlands and the North-West, a new set of high-speed long-distance services was introduced in 1966, launching British Rail's highly successful "Inter-City" brand[19] (the hyphen was later dropped) and offering such unprecedented journey times as London to Manchester or Liverpool in 2 hours 40 minutes (and even 2 hours 30 minutes for the twice-daily Manchester Pullman).[20] A significant new feature was that these fast trains were not just the occasional crack express but a regular-interval service throughout the day: hourly to Birmingham, two-hourly to Manchester, and so on.[21] With the completion of the northern electrification in 1974, London to Glasgow journey times were reduced to 5 hours.[6]

A BR Class 87 electric locomotive, in BR blue livery with a train of Mark 2 coaches. These, along with the similar Class 86 formed the backbone of express passenger services on the WCML from the 1970s until the 2000s.

Along with electrification came the gradual introduction of modern coaches such as the Mark 2 and, following the northern electrification scheme's completion in 1974, the fully integral, air-conditioned Mark 3 design. These vehicles remained the mainstay of the WCML's express services until the early 2000s. Line speeds were raised to a maximum 110 mph (177 km/h), and these trains, hauled by powerful Class 86 and Class 87 electric locomotives, came to be seen as BR's flagship passenger product, immediately restoring the WCML to its premier position after a long period in the doldrums. Passenger traffic on the WCML doubled between 1962 and 1975.[22]

The modernisation also saw the demolition and redevelopment of several of the key stations on the line: BR was keen to symbolise the coming of the "electric age" by replacing the Victorian-era buildings with new structures built from glass and concrete. Notable examples were Birmingham New Street, Manchester Piccadilly, Stafford, Coventry and London Euston. To enable the latter, the famous Doric Arch portal into the original Philip Hardwick-designed terminus was demolished in 1962 amid much public outcry.[23] Recently, plans have been mooted to completely rebuild both New Street and Euston stations.

Electrification of the Edinburgh branch was carried out in the late 1980s as part of the East Coast Main Line electrification project in order to allow InterCity 225 sets to access Glasgow via Carstairs Junction.[24]

The Advanced Passenger Train British Rail's ill-fated tilting train

Modernisation brought great improvements, not least in speed and frequency, to many WCML services but there have been some losses over the years. Locations and lines served by through trains or through coaches from London in 1947 but no longer so served include: Windermere; Barrow-in-Furness, Whitehaven and Workington; Huddersfield and Halifax (via Stockport); Blackpool; Colne (via Stockport); Morecambe and Heysham; Southport (via Edge Hill); and Stranraer Harbour. Notable also is the loss of through service between Liverpool and Scotland.

British Rail's proposal in the 1970s and 80s to introduce a tilting train to the curvaceous West Coast Main Line, did not occur as had been originally envisaged. The Advanced Passenger Train APT project succumbed to an insufficient political will in the United Kingdom to persist in solving the teething difficulties experienced with the many immature technologies necessary for a ground breaking project of this nature. The decision not to proceed was made against a backdrop of negative public perceptions shaped by media coverage of the time. However this train proved that London-Glasgow WCML journey times of less than 4 hours were achieveable and paved the way for the later tilting Virgin Pendolino trains.[25]

In the late 1980s, and in line with Japanese, French and German thinking of the time, British Rail put forward a track realignment scheme to raise speeds on the WCML; a proposed project called InterCity 250, which entailed realigning parts of the line in order to increase curve radii and smooth gradients in order to facilitate higher-speed running. The scheme which would have seen the introduction of new rolling stock derived from that developed for the East Coast electrification was scrapped in 1992, a victim of the recession of the period and the intervention of privatisation.

Modernisation by Network Rail[edit]

A tilting Class 390 Pendolino on the WCML (introduced since 2002)

By the dawn of the 1990s, it was clear that further modernisation was required. Initially this took the form of the InterCity 250 project. But then the privatisation of BR intervened, under which Virgin Trains won a 15-year franchise in 1996 for the running of long-distance express services on the line. The modernisation plan unveiled by Virgin and the new infrastructure owner Railtrack involved the upgrade and renewal of the line to allow the use of tilting Pendolino trains with a maximum line speed of 140 mph (225 km/h), in place of the previous maximum of 110 mph (177 km/h). Railtrack estimated that this upgrade would cost £2bn, be ready by 2005, and cut journey times to 1 hour for London to Birmingham and 1hr 45mins for London to Manchester.

However, these plans proved too ambitious and were subsequently aborted. Central to the implementation of the plan was the adoption of moving block signalling, which had never been proven on anything more than simple metro lines and light rail systems - not on a complex high-speed heavy-rail network such as the WCML. Despite this, Railtrack made what would prove to be the fatal mistake of not properly assessing the technical viability and cost of implementing moving block prior to promising the speed increase to Virgin and the government. By 1999, with little headway on the modernisation project made, it became apparent to engineers that the technology was not mature enough to be used on the line.[26] The bankruptcy of Railtrack in 2001 and its replacement by Network Rail following the Hatfield crash brought a reappraisal of the plans, while the cost of the upgrade soared. Following fears that cost overruns on the project would push the final price tag to £13bn, the plans were scaled down, bringing the cost down to between £8bn and £10bn, to be ready by 2008, with a maximum speed for tilting trains of a more modest 125 mph (201 km/h) - equalling the speeds available on the East Coast route, but some way short of the original target, and even further behind BR's original vision of 155 mph (250 km/h) speeds planned and achieved with the APT.

A Virgin Pendolino and EWS Class 66 freight train on the WCML

The first phase of the upgrade, south of Manchester, opened on 27 September 2004 with journey times of 1 hour 21 minutes for London to Birmingham and 2 hours 6 minutes for London to Manchester. The final phase, introducing 125 mph (201 km/h) running along most of the line, was announced as opening on 12 December 2005, bringing the fastest journey between London and Glasgow to 4 hours 25 mins (down from 5 hours 10 minutes).[2] However, considerable work remained, such as the quadrupling of the track in the Trent Valley, upgrading the slow lines, the second phase of remodelling Nuneaton, and the remodelling of Stafford, Rugby, Milton Keynes and Coventry stations, and these were completed in late 2008. The upgrading of the Crewe-Manchester line via Wilmslow was completed in summer 2006.

In September 2006, a new speed record was set on the WCML – a Pendolino train completed the 401-mile (645 km) Glasgow Central – London Euston run in a record 3 hours 55 minutes, beating the APT's record of 4 hours 15 minutes, although the APT still holds the overall record on the northbound run.

The decade-long modernisation project was finally completed in December 2008.[27] This allowed Virgin's VHF (Very High Frequency) timetable to be progressively introduced through early 2009, the highlights of which are a three-trains-per-hour service to both Birmingham and Manchester during off-peak periods, and nearly all Anglo-Scottish timings brought under the 4 hours 30 minutes barrier – with one service (calling only at Preston) achieving a London-Glasgow time of 4 hours 8 minutes.

Infrastructure[edit]

Track[edit]

Quadruple track section of line at Roade cutting in Northamptonshire

The main spine of the WCML is quadruple track almost all of the way from London to Crewe (where the line diverges into sections to Manchester, North Wales, Liverpool, and Scotland)[4] The remaining sections are mainly double track, except for a few busy sections around Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool.

The complete route has been cleared for W10 loading gauge freight traffic, allowing use of higher 9 ft 6 in (2,896 mm) hi-cube shipping containers.[28][29]

Electrification[edit]

Nearly all of the WCML is electrified with overhead wires at 25 kV AC.[30] Several of the remaining unelectrified branches of the WCML in the North West are scheduled to be electrified by 2016 such as the Liverpool to Wigan, Manchester to Preston and Preston to Blackpool branches.[31]

Rolling stock[edit]

The majority of stock used on the West Coast Main Line is new-build, part of Virgin's initial franchise agreement having been a commitment to introduce a brand-new fleet of tilting Class 390 "Pendolino" trains for long-distance high-speed WCML services. The 53-strong Pendolino fleet, plus three tilting SuperVoyager diesel sets, were bought for use on these InterCity services. One Pendolino was written off in 2007 following the Grayrigg derailment. After the 2007 franchise "shake-up" in the Midlands, more SuperVoyagers were transferred to Virgin West Coast, instead of going to the new CrossCountry franchise. The SuperVoyagers are used on London-Chester and Holyhead services because the Chester/North Wales line is not electrified, so they run "under the wires" between London and Crewe. SuperVoyagers were also used on Virgin's London-Scotland via Birmingham services, even though this route is entirely electrified - this situation is however changing since the expansion of the Pendolino fleet; from 2013 onward Class 390 sets are now routinely deployed on Edinburgh/Glasgow-Birmingham services.

By 2012, the WCML Pendolino fleet will be strengthened by the addition of two coaches to 31 of the 52 existing sets, thus turning them into 11-car trains. Four brand new 11-car sets are also part of this order, one of which will replace the set lost in the Grayrigg derailment. Although the new stock is to be supplied in Virgin livery, it was not expected to enter traffic before 31 March 2012, when the InterCity West Coast franchise was due to be re-let, though the date for the new franchise was later put back to December 2012,[32] and any effect of this on the timetable for introducing the new coaches remains unclear.

Previous franchisees Central Trains and Silverlink (operating local and regional services partly over sections of the WCML) were given 30 new "Desiros", originally ordered for services in the south-east. Following Govia's successful bid for the West Midlands franchise in 2007, another 37 Desiros were ordered to replace its older fleet of 321s.

The older BR-vintage locomotive-hauled passenger rolling stock still has a limited role on the WCML, with the overnight Caledonian Sleeper services between London Euston and Scotland using Mark 3 and Mark 2 coaches. Virgin has also retained and refurbished one of the original Mark 3 rakes with a Driving Van Trailer and a Class 90 locomotive as a standby set to cover for Pendolino breakdowns.

The following table lists the rolling stock which forms the core passenger service pattern on the WCML serving its principal termini; it is not exhaustive since many other types use sections of the WCML network as part of other routes - notable examples include the InterCity 125 HST on certain CrossCountry services (primarily through the West Midlands area) and the East Coast InterCity 225 between Edinburgh and Glasgow Central.

Class Image Type Cars per set Top speed Number Operator Routes Built
mph km/h
Class 390 Pendolino Virgin Pendolino 390009 at Carlisle 2005-10-08 01.jpg EMU 9-11 140 225 56 Virgin Trains All services from London Euston to Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh. 2001–2004
2009–2012
Class 221 SuperVoyager Virgin SuperVoyager @ Crewe.jpg DEMU 5 125 200 20 Virgin Trains All services between London Euston to: North Wales, Chester.
Selected between London Euston to Birmingham.
Selected London Euston to Glasgow/Edinburgh via Birmingham services.
2001–2002
Class 90 90017 at Norwich.JPG Electric locomotive 1 110 180 3 Virgin Trains (x1)
Hired from Freightliner
First ScotRail (x5)
Hired from DB Schenker
Virgin Relief train
All Caledonian Sleeper services between London Euston as far as Glasgow & Edinburgh
1987–1990
Mark 2 Coach ScotRail Mk2 coach at Euston.jpg Lounge car
Seated Sleeper
6 100 161 22 First ScotRail All Caledonian Sleeper services between London Euston to Scottish destinations 1971–1974
Mark 3 Coach Virgin silver FO.JPG Passenger coach 10 125 (limited to 110) 200 10 Virgin Trains Relief train. 1975–1988 (refurbished 2009)
Caledonian Sleeper at Euston.jpg Sleeping car 10-12 125 (limited to 80 in service) 200 53 First ScotRail All Caledonian Sleeper services between London Euston to Scottish destinations 1980–1982
Virgin silver DVT.JPG DVT 1 110 180 1 Virgin Trains Relief train. 1988 (refurbished 2009)
Class 321/4 321411 Watford Junction E.JPG EMU 4 100 160 7 London Midland London Euston to Milton Keynes, Northampton 1989–1990
Class 350/1 Desiro 350104 LondonMidland.jpg EMU 4 110 180 30 London Midland London Euston to Tring, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Birmingham
Birmingham to Liverpool.
2004–2005
Class 350/2 Desiro 350240 Birmingham New Street.jpg EMU 4 100 160 37 London Midland London Euston to Tring, Milton Keynes, Northampton and Birmingham
Birmingham to Liverpool.
2008–2009
Class 350/4 Desiro EMU 4 110 180 10 First Transpennine Express Manchester Airport to Glasgow and Edinburgh. 2013–2014
Class 185 Pennine Tpenewclass185.jpg DMU 3 100 160 51 First TransPennine Express TransPennine North West 2005–2006
Class 377/2 Electrostar Unit 377201 at Harrow & Wealdstone.JPG EMU 4 100 160 12 Southern Milton Keynes Central to South Croydon 2003–2004
Class 377/7 Electrostar EMU 5 100 160 8 Southern Milton Keynes Central to South Croydon 2013-14

Operators[edit]

A Map of Virgin Trains (red), London Midland Express (green) and First TransPennine Express (purple) services on the WCML showing the current service pattern each hour

Virgin Trains[edit]

The current principal train operating company on the West Coast Main Line is Virgin Trains, which runs the majority of long-distance services under the InterCity West Coast rail franchise. During 2011–2012 the Department for Transport conducted a franchise competition for the InterCity West Coast franchise, announcing that First Group had been awarded the new franchise, but then cancelled the competition, before any contracts were signed. Subsequently, the contract for Virgin Trains to operate the InterCity West Coast franchise has been extended by between 9 and 13 months, while a competition for a new interim franchise agreement is run.[33]

Virgin operates nine trains per hour on the WCML from London Euston, with three trains per hour to each of Birmingham and Manchester, one train per hour to each of Chester, Liverpool and Glasgow, and six trains per day to Holyhead. There is also one daily train in each direction to Wrexham General. Additional terminating services run between London Euston and Preston, Lancaster and Carlisle. Between 2006 and 2009, Virgin ran a once-daily service in each direction between London Euston and Edinburgh, but this proved uncompetitive in terms of journey time with the more direct East Coast Main Line service, and was subsequently dropped. Virgin still operates a service between Edinburgh and Euston via Birmingham over the WCML every two hours with early morning and late evening trains terminating or starting from Birmingham.

In addition, Virgin operates one train per hour between Birmingham New Street and either Glasgow or Edinburgh (alternating each hour). On 28 May 2013, Virgin announced that it would extend these services south from Birmingham to Euston from the December 2013 timetable change, providing direct connections from Scotland to Birmingham Airport and Coventry.[34][35][36]

Average Journey Times[37]

Route Fastest Journey Time Average Journey Time
London Euston-Birmingham International 1hr 09mins 1hr 10mins
London Euston-Birmingham New Street 1hr 12mins 1hr 23mins
London Euston-Manchester Piccadilly 1hr 58mins 2hrs 9mins
London Euston-Liverpool Lime Street 2hrs 1min 2hrs 8mins
London Euston-Glasgow Central 4hrs 08mins 4hrs 31mins
London Euston-Chester 1hr 58mins 2hrs 2mins
London Euston-Holyhead 3hrs 40mins 3hrs 46mins
London Euston-Wrexham General 2hrs 16mins 2hrs 28mins
London Euston-Preston 2hrs 2hrs 18mins
London Euston-Lancaster 2hrs 30mins 2hrs 34mins
London Euston-Carlisle 3hrs 13mins 3hrs 15mins

London Midland[edit]

London Midland provides commuter and some long-distance services on the route, most of which terminate at London Euston. They are all operated under the "Express" brand. There are two trains an hour between London and Birmingham; one calling at the majority of stations en route and one calling only at Watford Junction and Milton Keynes Central before Northampton, then most stops from there. A third service operates in the southbound direction every hour, but northbound this service terminates at Northampton and requires a change. These London-Birmingham stopping services are roughly one hour slower, end to end, than the Virgin Trains fast service.

London Midland also operates an hourly service between London and Crewe, serving Milton Keynes Central, Rugby, Nuneaton, Atherstone, Tamworth, Lichfield Trent Valley, Rugeley Trent Valley, Stafford, Stone, Stoke-on-Trent, Alsager and Crewe. This service was introduced in 2008 to coincide with the withdrawal of the similar Virgin Trains service. Under 'Project 110' this service was reconfigured in December 2012 to omit Watford Junction and Northampton during the daytime, and to operate 10 mph faster using enhanced British Rail Class 350/1 units.

A service to Tring is provided half-hourly from Euston, calling at Harrow & Wealdstone, Bushey, Watford Junction, Kings Langley, Apsley, Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted. Another service operates the same route but omitting Harrow, Bushey, Kings Langley and Apsley, and continuing beyond Tring to Cheddington, Leighton Buzzard, Bletchley and Milton Keynes Central.

During peak periods London Midland offers "The Watford Shuttle", which operates between Euston, Harrow and Wealdstone, Bushey, and Watford Junction. One service in each direction is extended to Tring and Milton Keynes.

London Midland also operates an hourly stopping train on the Marston Vale Line from Bletchley to Bedford as well as a 45-minute service on the Abbey Line to St Albans. These are both local branches off the WCML.

After the Central Trains franchise was revised, London Midland took over services running on the WCML between Birmingham and Liverpool.

First Transpennine Express[edit]

As part of its North West route, First TransPennine Express provides services along the WCML between Preston and Glasgow/Edinburgh (alternating serving each every 2 hours) as part of its Manchester Airport to Scotland service. Also as part of its North West route, services run between Preston and Manchester branches off the WCML encompassing Blackpool North, Windermere and Barrow-in-Furness.

Southern[edit]

Southern provide an hourly service between South Croydon and Milton Keynes Central, which calls at all stations to Clapham Junction via Selhurst, then all stations on the West London Line as far as Shepherd's Bush. It then diverges from the WLL and joins the WCML south of Wembley Central, calling at that station and then Harrow & Wealdstone, Watford Junction, Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted, Tring, Leighton Buzzard, Bletchley and Milton Keynes Central.

East Coast[edit]

East Coast operates one train per day between Glasgow Central and London Kings Cross via Edinburgh Waverley,[38] operating over the West Coast Main Line between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

CrossCountry[edit]

CrossCountry operates services from Bournemouth and Bristol Temple Meads to Manchester Piccadilly. Some trains from Manchester Piccadilly to Bristol Temple Meads are extended to Paignton and Plymouth, and on summer weekends to Penzance and Newquay. CrossCountry services between Reading and Newcastle also use a small portion of the West Coast Main Line between Coventry and Birmingham New Street. Services towards Reading are often extended to Southampton Central (or occasionally Bournemouth) and 1 train per day towards Reading is extended to Guildford.

CrossCountry also operates a 2 hourly service to/from Glasgow Central which operates to either Plymouth(3 extend to Penzance) Newcastle and Birmingham as an extension of the service to/from Edinburgh. On summer weekends trains from Glasgow Central also operate to Paignton, Penzance and Newquay. These services use the West Coast Main Line from Edinburgh to Glasgow Central.

Current developments[edit]

Felixstowe and Nuneaton freight capacity scheme[edit]

A number of items of work are under way or proposed to accommodate additional freight traffic between the Haven ports and the Midlands including track dualling. The 'Nuneaton North Chord' was completed and opened on 15 November 2012.[39] The work had been scheduled to be completed in July 2012.[40] The chord will ease access for some trains between the Birmingham to Peterborough Line and the WCML. The Ipswich chord was opened at the end of March 2014 allowing trains to run without reversing from Felixstowe towards the Midlands.[41]

Stafford – Norton Bridge rail enhancement[edit]

Planned flying junction and 2.5 mi (4.0 km) track diversion in the StaffordNorton Bridge area. This will replace the current level junction where the Stafford to Manchester via Stoke-on-Trent line diverges from the trunk route at Norton Bridge, avoiding conflicting train movements to enhance capacity and reduce journey times.[42]

Proposed development[edit]

Outline map of the possible future Crossrail extensions as recommended in the 2011 RUS, which include the WCML[43]

Increased line speed[edit]

Virgin Trains put forward plans in 2007 to increase the line speed in places on the WCML – particularly along sections of the Trent Valley Line between Stafford and Rugby from 125 to 135 mph (200 to 217 km/h) after the quadrupling of track had been completed. This would permit faster services and possibly allow additional train paths. 135 mph (217 km/h) was claimed to be achievable by Pendolino trains while using existing lineside signalling without the need for cab signalling via the use of the TASS system (Tilt Authorisation and Speed Supervision) to prevent overspeeding. In practice regulations introduced by the HMRI (now ORR) at the time of the ECML high-speed test runs in 1991 are still in force prohibiting this. Network Rail was aware of Virgin Train's aspirations;[44] however, on 4 November 2009 Chris Mole MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Transport) announced that there were no plans for this to happen and thus for the foreseeable future the maximum speed will remain at 125 mph (201 km/h).[45]

In promoting this proposal, Virgin Trains reported that passenger numbers on Virgin West Coast increased from 13.6 million in 1997/98 to 18.7 million in 2005/6, while numbers on CrossCountry grew from 12.6 million to 20.4 million over the same period.[46]

Crossrail extension[edit]

In the London & South East Rail Utilisation Strategy (RUS) document published by Network Rail in 2011, a proposal was put forward to extend the Crossrail lines now currently construction in central London along the West Coast Main Line as far as Tring. The scheme would involve the construction of a tunnel in the vicinity of the proposed new station at Old Oak Common in West London connecting the Crossrail route to the WCML slow lines with a potential for interchange with the planned High Speed 2 line. Under current plans, a proportion of westbound Crossrail trains will terminate at Paddington due to capacity limitations; the RUS recommends the WCML extension as it will enable these services to continue beyond Paddington, maximising the use of the central London tunnels. The RUS also notes that diversion of WCML regional rail services via Crossrail into central London would alleviate congestion at Euston station, and consequently reduce the need for infrastructure work on the London Underground network which would be required to accommodate HS2 passengers arriving at Euston. The Crossrail extension proposal has not been officially confirmed or funded.[43]

Accidents[edit]

The route in detail[edit]

Network Rail, successor from 2001 to Railtrack plc, in its business plan published in April 2006,[44] has divided the national network into 26 'Routes' for planning, maintenance and operational purposes.[48] Route 18 is named as 'that part of the West Coast Main Line that runs between London Euston and Carstairs Junction' although it also includes several branch lines that had not previously been considered part of the WCML.[49] The northern terminal sections of the WCML are reached by Routes 26 (to Motherwell and Glasgow) and 24 (to Edinburgh). This therefore differs from the "classic" definition of the WCML as the direct route between London Euston and Glasgow Central.

The cities and towns served by the WCML are listed in the tables below. Stations on loops and branches are marked **. Those stations in italics are not served by main-line services run by Virgin Trains but only by local trains. Between Euston and Watford Junction the WCML is largely but not exactly paralleled by the operationally independent Watford DC Line, a local stopping service now part of London Overground, with 17 intermediate stations, including three with additional platforms on the WCML.

The final table retraces the route specifically to indicate the many loops, branches, junctions and interchange stations on Route 18, which is the core of the WCML, with the new 'Route' names for connecting lines.

The North Wales Coast Line between Crewe and Holyhead and the line between Manchester to Preston are not electrified. Services between London and Holyhead and between Manchester to Scotland are mostly operated either by Super Voyager tilting diesel trains or, in the case of one of the Holyhead services, by a Pendolino set hauled from Crewe by a Class 57/3 diesel locomotive.

London to Glasgow and Edinburgh (Network Rail Route 18)[edit]

Town/City Station Ordnance Survey
National Grid Reference
Branches and loops
London London Euston TQ295827
Wembley Wembley Central TQ182850
Harrow Harrow and Wealdstone TQ154894
Bushey Bushey TQ118953
Watford Watford Junction TQ109973
Apsley Apsley TL080019
Kings Langley Kings Langley TL062048
Hemel Hempstead Hemel Hempstead TL042059
Berkhamsted Berkhamsted SP993081
Tring Tring SP950122
Cheddington Cheddington SP922185
Leighton Buzzard Leighton Buzzard SP910250
Milton Keynes (Bletchley area) Bletchley SP868337
** Bedford ** Bedford TL042497 Marston Vale Line spur
Milton Keynes (centre) Milton Keynes Central SP841380
Milton Keynes (at Wolverton area Wolverton SP820414
** Northampton ** Northampton SP623666 Northampton Loop diverges north of Wolverton
** Long Buckby ** Long Buckby SP511759 Northampton Loop rejoins south of Rugby
Rugby Rugby SP511759 Rugby-Birmingham-Wolverhampton-Stafford
(see separate table below)
Nuneaton Nuneaton SP364921
Atherstone Atherstone SP304979
Polesworth Polesworth SK264031
Tamworth Tamworth SK213044
Lichfield Lichfield Trent Valley SK136099
Rugeley Rugeley Trent Valley SK048191
Stafford Stafford SJ918229 Rugby-Birmingham-Stafford rejoins
Manchester via Stoke-on-Trent diverges
either before or after Stafford (two routes)
** Stoke-on-Trent ** Stoke-on-Trent SJ879456
** Congleton ** Congleton SJ872623
** Macclesfield ** Macclesfield SJ919736
** Stockport ** Stockport SJ892898
** Manchester ** Manchester Piccadilly SJ849977
Crewe Crewe SJ711546 Crewe-Manchester-Preston and
Crewe-Chester-North Wales-Holyhead
(see separate tables below)
Winsford Winsford SJ670660
Northwich Hartford SJ631717
Acton Bridge Acton Bridge SJ598745 Liverpool route diverges north of Acton Bridge
** Runcorn ** Runcorn SJ508826
** Liverpool ** Liverpool Lime Street SJ352905
Warrington Warrington Bank Quay SJ599878 Earlestown & Newton Loop diverges at Winwick Junction, rejoining at Golborne Junction
Wigan Wigan North Western SD581053
Preston Preston SD534290 Crewe-Manchester-Preston rejoins
Lancaster Lancaster SD471617
Oxenholme (Kendal) Oxenholme Lake District SD531901
Penrith Penrith NY511299
Carlisle Carlisle NY402554
Lockerbie Lockerbie NY137817
Carstairs Carstairs Junction NS952454
Then either
Motherwell Motherwell NS750572
Glasgow Glasgow Central NS587651
or
Edinburgh (Haymarket/West End) Haymarket NT239731
Edinburgh Edinburgh Waverley NT257738

Branches and loops[edit]

The WCML is noted for the diversity of branches served between the London and Glasgow main line. The following map deals with the very complex network of lines in the West Midlands that link the old route via Birmingham with the new WCML route via the Trent Valley (i.e. 1830s versus 1840s):

Map of the Rugby-Birmingham-Stafford line and other local routes

In the following tables, related to the WCML branches, only the Intercity stations are recorded:

Rugby-Birmingham-Wolverhampton-Stafford (Network Rail Route 17)[edit]
Town/City Station Ordnance Survey
grid reference
Crewe-Holyhead and Chester-Wrexham (Network Rail Route 22)[edit]
Town/City Station Ordnance Survey
grid reference
Crewe-Manchester-Preston (Network Rail Route 20)[edit]
Town/City Station Ordnance Survey
grid reference

Network Rail Route 18 (WCML) - Branches and junctions[edit]

Location Type Route Details
Camden Jnct Branch 18 Watford DC Line (WDCL)
+ Junction 6 North London Line from Primrose Hill joins WDCL and WCML
Willesden Jnct Junction 6 North London Line from West Hampstead joins WDCL and WCML
+ Junction 2 West London Line from Clapham Junction joins WCML
+ Junction 6 North London Line from Richmond joins WCML
Willesden Junction Interchange 6 North London Line with Watford DC Line
Watford Junction Branch 18 Watford DC Line terminates at separate bay platforms
+ Branch 18 St Albans Branch Line (AC single line single section) to St Albans
Bletchley Branch 18 Marston Vale Line to Bedford
Bletchley High Level (Denbigh Hall South Jnct) Branch 16 Freight only line to Newton Longville (remnant of mothballed Varsity Line to Oxford)
Hanslope Junction Loop 18 Northampton Loop leaves a few miles north of Wolverton and rejoins just south of Rugby
Rugby Junction 17 West Midlands Main Line to Coventry, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Stafford
Nuneaton Junction 19 The Birmingham to Peterborough Line from Peterborough
+ Junction 17 The Coventry to Nuneaton Line
+ Junction 17 The Birmingham to Peterborough Line to Birmingham
Tamworth Interchange 17 The Cross Country Route (MR) Bristol and Birmingham to Derby and the North East
Lichfield Trent Valley Interchange 17 The Cross-City Line Redditch to Lichfield
+ Junction 17 north of the station
Rugeley Trent Valley Junction 17 The Chase Line from Birmingham to Rugeley
Colwich Junction Branch 18 to Stoke-on-Trent and Manchester (Route 20 from Cheadle Hulme)
Stafford Junction 17 West Midlands Main Line from Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton
Norton Bridge Branch 18 to Stone to join line from Colwich Jnct to Manchester (Route 20 from Cheadle Hulme)
Stoke-on-Trent Junction 19 from Derby
Kidsgrove Branch 18 to Alsager and Crewe
Cheadle Hulme - 20 Route 18 London – Manchester Line becomes Route 20 through to Manchester
Crewe Branch 18 from Kidsgrove (diesel service from Skegness, Grantham, Nottingham Derby and Stoke-on-Trent)
+ Junction 14 The Welsh Marches Line from South Wales, Hereford and Shrewsbury
+ Junction 22 to Chester and the North Wales Coast Line
+ Junction 20 to Wilmslow, Manchester Airport, Stockport and Manchester
Hartford North Junction 20 (freight only) from Northwich
Weaver Jnct Branch 18 to Runcorn and Liverpool (Route 20 from Liverpool South Parkway railway station)
Liverpool South Parkway - 20 Route 18 London to Liverpool Line becomes Route 20 to Liverpool Lime Street
Warrington Junction 22 from Llandudno and Chester to Manchester
Winwick Jnct Junction 20 to Liverpool, Earlestown and Manchester
Golborne Jnct Junction 20 to Liverpool, Newton-le-Willows and Manchester
Ince Moss/Springs Branch Junct Junction 20 The Liverpool to Wigan Line
Wigan Junction 20 from Manchester
Euxton Jnct Junction 20 The Manchester to Preston Line from Manchester
Farington Jnct Junction 23 East Lancashire Line and Caldervale Line
Farington Curve Jnct Junction 23 Ormskirk Branch Line, East Lancashire Line and Caldervale Line
Preston Dock Junction 23 west
Preston Junction 20 to Blackpool
Morecambe South Jnct Junction 23 to Morecambe
Hest Bank Jnct Junction 23 from Morecambe
Carnforth Jnct Junction 23 Furness Line to Barrow-in-Furness and also the Leeds to Morecambe Line to Leeds
Oxenholme Junction 23 to Windermere
Penrith Junction 23 Route 23 uses two junctions to the north of the station
Carlisle Junction 23 Route 23 Settle-Carlisle Railway and Route 9 from Newcastle
+ Junction 23 The Cumbrian Coast Line from Barrow-in-Furness
Gretna Jnct Junction 26 to the Glasgow South Western Line
Carstairs South Jnct Junction 24 Route 18 West Coast Main Line becomes Route 24 to Edinburgh
Carstairs South - 26 Route 18 West Coast Main Line becomes Route 26 to Glasgow

The length of the WCML's main core section is nominally quoted as being 401.25 miles (645.7 km). The basis of this measurement is taken as being the distance between the midpoint of Platform 18 of London Euston to that of Platform 1 of Glasgow Central, and has historically been the distance used in official calculations during speed record attempts.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "West Coast Main Line Pendolino Tilting Trains, United Kingdom". railway-technology.com. Retrieved 1 December 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "High-speed tilting train on track", BBC News Online, 12 December 2005.
  3. ^ "General definitions of highspeed". International Union of Railways. Retrieved 17 March 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c Network Rail media centre, December 2008.
  5. ^ West Coast Main Line, Network Rail, October 2007.
  6. ^ a b c British Railways Board (1974).Electric All The Way. Information booklet.
  7. ^ History of the West Coast Main Line, Virgin Trains, July 2004.
  8. ^ Grand Junction Railway: History of the West Coast Main line, Virgin Trains 2004.
  9. ^ a b London and Birmingham Railway: History of the West Coast Main line, Virgin Trains 2004.
  10. ^ Awdry, Christopher (1990). Encyclopaedia of British Railway Companies. Sparkford: Patrick Stephens Ltd. ISBN 1-85260-049-7. OCLC 19514063.
  11. ^ The Manchester Lines: History of the West Coast Main line. Virgin Trains (2004).
  12. ^ London and North Western Railway Society
  13. ^ Thomas, John (1971). A Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain. Volume VI Scotland: The Lowlands and the Borders (1st ed.). Newton Abbot: David & Charles. OCLC 650446341. 
  14. ^ Lines in Lancashire: History of the West Coast Main line. Virgin Trains (2004).
  15. ^ railalbum.co.uk
  16. ^ "The winter timetables of British Railways: The West Coast speed-up". Trains Illustrated (Hampton Court: Ian Allan). December 1959. p. 584. 
  17. ^ "Auction Announcements of Messrs. Knight, Frank, and Rutley". The Times (London). 27 April 1912. p. 22. ""The Abington and Crawford Estates ... extending as they do for some 12 miles either side of the main road and the West Coast Main Line to the North, with Abington and Crawford Stations on the Estate." 
  18. ^ Marshall, John (1979). The Guinness Book Of Rail Facts & Feats. Enfield: Guinness Superlatives. ISBN 0-900424-56-7. 
  19. ^ Wolmar, Christian (2007). Fire and Steam, A New History of the Railways in Britain. London: Atlantic. ISBN 978-1-84354-629-0. 
  20. ^ Passenger Timetable 1 May 1972 to 6 May 1973. British Railways Board, London Midland Region. pp. 83, 06. 
  21. ^ British Railways Board (April 1966).Your New Railway: London Midland Electrification. Information booklet.
  22. ^ Potter, Stephen; Roy, Robin (1986). Research and development: British Rail's fast trains. Design and Innovation, Block 3. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-335-17273-3. 
  23. ^ Stamp, Gavin (1 October 2007). "Steam ahead: the proposed rebuilding of London's Euston station is an opportunity to atone for a great architectural crime". Apollo: the international magazine of art and antiques. Retrieved 9 November 2007. 
  24. ^ Semmens, Peter (1991). Electrifying the East Coast Route. ISBN 0-85059-929-6.
  25. ^ 'Queasy Rider:' The Failure of the Advanced Passenger Train.
  26. ^ Meek, James (1 April 2004). "The £10bn Rail Crash". The Guardian (London). 
  27. ^ "West Coast rail works completed". BBC News Online. 14 December 2008. 
  28. ^ "West coast main line upgrade". Corus rail. Retrieved 16 May 2009. 
  29. ^ "Freight Route Utilisation Stategy – March 2007". Network Rail. Retrieved 25 November 2009. 
  30. ^ "Railroad/Railway Electric Traction Systems". crbasic.info. Retrieved 30 August 2012. 
  31. ^ "North West electrification". Network Rail. Retrieved 30 August 2012. 
  32. ^ "Virgin Rail Group welcomes West Coast franchise extension discussions". Rail Network. 21 May 2011. Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  33. ^ West Coast Main Line - Written statements to Parliament. GOV.UK (2012-10-15). Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
  34. ^ Network Rail timetable.
  35. ^ Department for Transport.
  36. ^ Virgin Trains boosts Scotland-Birmingham services with December timetable.
  37. ^ "WCML 2008 timetable Virgin Trains". Virgin Trains. 
  38. ^ "Train Times". East Coast. 5 May 2011. Retrieved 6 June 2011. 
  39. ^ "Nuneaton North Chord freight line now open". Network Rail. 15 November 2012. 
  40. ^ "Work starts on Nuneaton chord". Rail (Peterborough). 10 August 2011. p. 20. 
  41. ^ "The new Ipswich chord will ease a major bottleneck on the Great Eastern main line". Network Rail. 25 March 2014. 
  42. ^ "Solving a rail bottleneck near Norton Bridge" (Press release). Network Rail. 24 May 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2011. 
  43. ^ a b "8. Potential new lines". London and South East Route Utilisation Strategy. Network Rail. 28 July 2011. pp. 149–153. 
  44. ^ a b Business plan 2007, Network Rail.
  45. ^ Hansard (House of Commons), 4 November 2009.
  46. ^ Connor, Neil (25 April 2006). "We won't bid if rail link becomes a 'bus run'". icBirmingham.co.uk. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  47. ^ "Ministry of Transport Accident Report Between Grayrigg and Oxenholme, L.M.S.R., 18 May 1947". Retrieved 18 February 2008. 
  48. ^ Route plans, Network Rail.
  49. ^ Network Rail Route 18.

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°10′41″N 0°55′27″W / 52.17801°N 0.92405°W / 52.17801; -0.92405