History of rail transport in Great Britain 1995 to date
This article is part of a series on the History of rail transport in Great Britain
The period from 1995 covers the history of rail transport in Great Britain following the privatisation of British Rail. During this period, passenger volumes have grown rapidly, safety has improved, and subsidies per journey have fallen. However, there is debate as to whether this is due to privatisation or to better government regulation. See impact of privatisation for more information. During this period, High Speed 1 and the West Coast Main Line upgrade were completed and more construction projects are currently under way.
Overall rail subsidies have risen, as shown in the graph, although spend per journey has decreased. Rail subsidies have increased from £2.5bn in 1992-93 to £3.3bn in 2015-16 (in current prices), although subsidy per journey has fallen from £3.32 to £1.89. However, this masks great regional variation: for instance, in 2014-15 funding varied from "£1.41 per passenger journey in England to £6.51 per journey in Scotland and £8.34 per journey in Wales."
Due to the increase in passenger numbers and the prospect of high speed rail both within Great Britain and connecting to Europe, this period has been called the start of a new Golden Age of rail travel. However quickly increasing passenger numbers have meant many trains are very crowded at peak times. Peak-time fares have increased by over 200% (since privatisation) to deter people from travelling at these times, whereas the price of advance tickets has halved in the same period.
- 1 Government policy
- 2 Infrastructure projects
- 3 Present locomotives and rolling stock
- 4 Future rolling stock
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Reform under the Labour government (1997–2010)
The Labour government (elected in 1997 after the majority of the privatisation process had been completed) did not completely reverse the railway privatisation of the previous administration. Initially it left the new structure largely in place, however its main innovation in the early years was the creation of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), initially in shadow form until the Transport Act 2000 received Royal Assent, as well as the appointment of Tom Winsor as Rail Regulator, who took a much harder line with the rail industry, and Railtrack in particular.
In the wake of the Hatfield rail crash in 2000, Railtrack entered into financial meltdown and the industry was in deep crisis. Labour refused to continue to bail out Railtrack and the company was put into Railway Administration in 2001 and a new company, Network Rail emerged to replace Railtrack in 2002. Since September 2014, Network Rail has been classified as a "government body".
The Strategic Rail Authority lasted just five years. Following the passing of the Railways Act 2005, its business was wound up and its functions transferred to the Department for Transport Rail Group and the Office for Rail Regulation. Further changes followed, which saw the government take back a greater degree of control.
Another important development occurred in the aftermath of the Potters Bar accident in May 2002 when a commuter train derailed (coincidentally on the same stretch of the East Coast Main Line as Hatfield) due to poorly maintained points. This resulted in Network Rail taking all track maintenance back in house and the industry went on to enjoy the longest period in modern times without a fatal accident due to industry error. This came to an end in February 2007 when a Virgin Pendolino derailed near Grayrigg in Cumbria, killing one person. The cause of the accident was identical to that in Potters Bar nearly five years earlier – once again calling into question Network Rail's maintenance procedures.
In 2007, the government's preferred option was to use diesel trains running on biodiesel, its White Paper Delivering a Sustainable Railway, ruling out large-scale Railway electrification in Great Britain for the following five years.
Following Gordon Brown's appointment as Prime Minister in 2007, Andrew Adonis was appointed Transport Secretary. He immediately began work on plans for a new high-speed route between London and Birmingham (later known as High Speed 2), which would augment the West Coast Main Line. Adonis also announced plans to electrify the Great Western Main Line from London as far as Swansea, as well as infill electrification schemes in the North West of England to remove diesel traction from certain key routes. Late in 2009, the InterCity East Coast franchise collapsed for the second time in three years when incumbent operator National Express East Coast (NXEC) proved unable to meet its financial obligations. Adonis transferred the franchise to the state-owned Directly Operated Railways to operate the route under its East Coast subsidiary.
Reform under the Coalition government (2010–2015)
After the 2010 General Election, the new Conservative led Coalition continued Labour's rail policies largely unaltered after a pause to review the finances. There was continuing support for the High Speed 2 scheme and further developing plans for the route, although great debate still rages over the scheme's benefits and costs. Whilst initially showing scepticism towards the electrification schemes of the Great Western route, they later gave the project its backing and work began formally in 2012. Plans were also mooted to electrify the remainder of the Midland Main Line.
In 2012, the franchising system again came under criticism when FirstGroup successfully ousted Virgin Trains as operator of the InterCity West Coast franchise. Virgin initially pursued a judicial review against the decision, citing the fact that First's bid was even more ambitious than the one which had scuttled National Express East Coast less than three years earlier. Before the review took place however, newly installed Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin scrapped the entire bidding process for the franchise and granted Virgin an extension to its contract when "severe technical flaws" were discovered in the original bidding competition.
The Conservative government (2015–present)
The Government has moved towards allowing more competition on the intercity network through open access operators. In 2015 it approved a service run by Alliance Rail to operate between London and Blackpool, and in 2016 it allowed FirstGroup to run open access services on the East Coast Main Line from 2021 under the operating name East Coast Trains.
Much debate continues over annual fare increases, although the government has now pledged to keep regulated rail fare increases at Retail Prices Index (RPI) inflation for the remainder of this Parliament. In addition much debate has continued over the financing of various rail schemes driven primarily by the huge cost and time overrun on the GWML route modernisation and electrification scheme. In connection with this, and to coincide with the Chancellor's Autumn statement in November 2015, the Bowe and Hendy reports were produced.
In March 2016, the National Infrastructure Commission said that Crossrail 2 should be taken forward "as a priority" and recommended that a bill should pass through Parliament by 2019 and the line should be open by 2033. Crossrail 2 is a North-South railway through London, similar to the East-West railway Crossrail which is currently under construction.
Since April 2016, the British railway network has been severely disrupted on many occasions by wide-reaching rail strikes, affecting rail franchises across the country. The industrial action began on Southern services as a dispute over the planned introduction of driver-only operation, and has since expanded to cover many different issues affecting the rail industry; as of February 2018, the majority of the industrial action remains unresolved, with further strikes planned. The scale, impact and bitterness of the nationwide rail strikes have been compared to the 1984–85 miners' strike by the media.
In July 2017, Chris Grayling, the secretary of state for transport announced a number of electrification schemes were to be suspended indefinitely citing the disruptive nature of electrification works and the availability of bi-mode technology. The schemes included aspects of the GWML including Cardiff to Swansea, the Midland Mainline from Kettering to Sheffield via Derby and Nottingham and Oxenholme to Windermere in the Lake District.
The British railway system continues to be developed. Contemporary projects include:
- The West Coast Main Line upgrade was a long-term project covering a series of technical aspects. Improvements included the four-tracking (from three) of the Trent Valley (a bypass of the West Midlands), redesigning the layout of several junction/stations e.g. Rugby and other associated work to increase line speed. This culminated in tilting trains at 125 mph being extended to Glasgow in 2005. The cost overruns of the programme are infamous - attributed to wide scope of programme (the promise to Virgin to build a 140 mph railway which would require moving block signalling) and poor project management by the defunct Railtrack.
- High Speed 1, a project to construct a 67-mile high-speed rail line from London to the British end of the Channel Tunnel, and involving a great deal of complex civil engineering including a 1404-yard bridge over the River Medway, a 2-mile tunnel under the Thames near Dartford, a 2-mile tunnel through the North Downs, 12-mile twin tunnels running into central London, a major new railway station extension to St Pancras Station in London, and a complex redesign and rebuild of the King's Cross St Pancras tube station. The southern phase 1 of the project opened in September 2003, and northern phase 2 opened in November 2007.
- The electrification of both the Liverpool to Manchester line and Liverpool to Wigan lines were completed in 2015 and electric Class 319 trains (on the Liverpool to Manchester Airport service) and Class 350s (on the Manchester Airport to Scotland services) have replaced diesel units.
- Electrification of the Cross-City Line to Bromsgrove has been completed, allowing electric trains to run by summer 2018.
- The Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway, a 13 mile (21 km) extension to the network, to the north of the Firth of Forth in Scotland. A Bill for the railway was passed by the Scottish Parliament and received Royal Assent in August 2004. Work commenced in September 2005, with services running by early 2008. The line re-establishes a railway decommissioned in 1983; the new line provided passenger connections to Glasgow, and freight links between the site of Kincardine power station, now used as a loading point for coal from open-cast sites, to avoid heavy traffic through Kincardine, and Longannet power station, and the coal terminals at Hunterston Deep Water Port. Longannet power station closed in 2016. The passenger part of the scheme, from Stirling to Alloa was in any case secure, and the Scottish Parliament appear to be in favour of passenger services being extended to Rosyth. This could possibly result in passenger stations serving the communities of Clackmannan, Kincardine, and Culross or Valleyfield, and through trains once more from Stirling to Dunfermline.
- A short extension of the Glasgow-Hamilton-Motherwell, which once again links Larkhall to the railway network after 40 years. Larkhall has for some time been the largest town in Scotland without a railway station. The new £35m line follows an existing formation, and services to Larkhall railway station resumed on 12 December 2005. The new section of route is electrified and is served with trains from Dalmuir, via Glasgow Central Low Level, with connections from other northern suburbs of Glasgow such as Milngavie.
- The Airdrie-Bathgate Rail Link was completed in December 2010, work having started in June 2007. The Airdrie-Bathgate project was quite extensive insofar as it included double track electrification, the present remnant of the line from just outside Edinburgh to Bathgate having been largely singled some time ago.
- The Glasgow Airport Rail Link was given the go ahead by the Scottish Parliament in December 2006 but the project was scrapped by the new SNP minority government in September 2009. A new 1.5 mile spur was to be built onto the existing Inverclyde route. An element of the project that did go ahead was upgrading the Glasgow Central - Paisley line to triple track to increase capacity on the Ayrshire and Inverclyde routes. This work was completed in 2012.
- A 35-mile section of the Waverley Route from Edinburgh to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders has been rebuilt after approval by the Scottish Parliament, which reopened on 6 September 2015. This project, also known as the Borders Railway, restored rail services to communities which have lacked access to the National Rail network since the Beeching cuts.
- The line between Glasgow Queen Street railway station and Edinburgh Waverley railway station via Falkirk High railway station was electrified and electric trains started running in December 2017.
- The Welsh Assembly Government re-opened the Vale of Glamorgan Line between Barry and Bridgend in 2005 and the Ebbw Valley Railway between Ebbw Vale Parkway and Cardiff Central in 2008. An extension of the line to Ebbw Vale Town opened in 2015.
- High Speed 2 (HS2) is a planned high-speed railway which will initially link the cities of London and Birmingham, followed by further extension to North West England and Yorkshire. Construction of the first phase of HS2 began in 2017 with a planned opening date of 2026, while completion of the entire network is expected in 2033. Phase One of HS2 will run between London Euston and the proposed new Birmingham Curzon Street station. Phase two will create two branches: a western leg to Manchester Piccadilly, and an eastern leg to the proposed Leeds New Lane station via the East Midlands Hub (serving Derby, Nottingham and Leicester) and Meadowhall Interchange (serving Sheffield).
- The Thameslink Programme started in 2009 and is expected to be completed in May 2018. The project includes the lengthening of platforms, station remodelling, new railway infrastructure (e.g. viaducts) and additional rolling stock, which will allow Govia Thameslink Railway to expand their Thameslink services further north and south.
- The Northern Hub is a rail project across Northern England aimed at stimulating economic growth by increasing train services, reducing journey times and electrifying lines between the major cities and towns in the north. The project was announced as the Manchester Hub, entailing a series of upgrades to cut journey times between cities in Northern England by alleviating rail bottlenecks around Manchester. Central to the project is the resolution of rail bottlenecks around Manchester city centre allowing more capacity and faster journey times between the northern cities. The construction of two through platforms at Piccadilly will allow an increase to 14 trains per hour from 10. Manchester Victoria station is being modernised to become the east-west rail interchange in northern England. Trains from the north east to Manchester Airport will use a new section of railway, the £85 million Ordsall Chord, between Manchester Victoria and Manchester Oxford Road to access Manchester Piccadilly and continue to the airport without the need to reverse at Piccadilly and without conflicting movements at the station throat. Services from Liverpool to Leeds and beyond will be diverted from the Cheshire Lines route via Warrington Central and Manchester Piccadilly to the electrified line via Newton-le-Willows and Manchester Victoria.
- On the Great Western Main Line, Network Rail plans to spend £5 billion on modernising the GWML and its South Wales branch plus other associated lines like the North Cotswolds which was completed in 2011. The modernisation plans were announced at separate times but their development time-scales overlap each other to represent a comprehensive modernisation plan for the Great Western and its associated lines during the second decade of the 21st century. The modernisation includes: electrification, resignalling, new rolling stock and station upgrades. According to Network Rail, the modernisation started in June 2010 and will end in 2017. On 8 November 2016 the government announced that several elements of the Great Western Main Line electrification programme would be indefinitely deferred due to cost overruns and delays. This was confirmed by Chris Grayling in July 2017 stating specifically Cardiff -Swansea electrification was cancelled and bi-mode availability made this possible without disruptive electrification works.
- Crossrail is a 118-kilometre (73-mile) railway line under construction in London and its environs. It is expected to begin full operation in 2019 with a new east-west route across Greater London. Work began in 2009 on the central section of the line—a new tunnel through central London—and connections to existing lines that will become part of Crossrail. Crossrail's aim is to provide a high-frequency commuter/suburban passenger service that will link parts of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, via central London, to Essex and South East London.
- The Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme or "EGIP" is an initiative started by the Scottish Government to upgrade the main railway line between Edinburgh and Glasgow via Falkirk High by 2016. The route via Shotts will follow in 2018. It is expected to cost around £650 million. Both these schemes dates have not and will not be met. In May 2017 a further delay was announced due to a safety critical component on the via Falkirk High route needing to be replaced.
- There is also a rolling programme of electrification in Scotland that will see the lines from Edinburgh and Glasgow electrified to Stirling, Dunblane and Alloa.
Timeline of improvements
- May: The Todmorden Curve reopened, allowing direct trains to operate between Manchester and east Lancashire. The Curve had been closed in 1965 with the tracks lifted in 1972.
- December: Apperley Bridge station reopened, after being closed in 1965. It is the first of two stations between Leeds and Shipley in West Yorkshire to be reopened.
- February: The first of 27 Class 387/2 Electrostar units were introduced on the Gatwick Express route between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport, replacing the Class 442s.
- March: The Norton Bridge flyover on the West Coast Main Line was brought into use.
- June: The first of 115 Class 700 Desiro City units entered service on Thameslink.
- June: Kirkstall Forge station opened.
- July: The new Bromsgrove station opened.
- December: The western-most segment of the western section of East West Rail opened, extending the line from Oxford Parkway to Oxford, and thus establishing a new Oxford-Marylebone service via Bicester Village.
- April: Ilkeston station in Derbyshire, served by trains between Nottingham and Leeds, opened and Low Moor station on the Caldervale line between Bradford and Halifax reopened after being closed in 1965.
- April: Redoubling of track from Rossett to Chester on the Shrewsbury to Chester Line was completed.
- May: Cambridge North station opened.
- May: Electric 387 trains started running between London Paddington and Maidenhead following completion of electrification work.
- June: The first of 66 Class 345 Aventra units entered service on Crossrail. These will replace the 44 TfL Rail Class 315 units that presently operate this service.
- August: The first of 30 Class 707 Desiro City units entered service with South West Trains.
- October: The first Class 800 Intercity Express trains were introduced on the Great Western Main Line.
- December: The Ordsall Chord opened to passenger traffic.
- December: As part of the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Programme, the first electric trains ran from Edinburgh to Glasgow via Falkirk High.
Dates after December 2018 are plans, not events, and are subject to extensive revision.
- January: The line from Preston to Blackpool South including Kirkham and Wesham reopened on time with completely new signaling.
- January: Electric trains started running between Paddington and Didcot following completion of electrification work on this section of the Great Western Main Line.
- January: Infrastructure work on the Thameslink project allows 20 trains per hour between Blackfriars and St Pancras.
- January: The first passenger train ran on the completed Bermondsey dive-under.
- April: Kenilworth station opened on the line between Leamington Spa and Coventry.
- May: The first electric trains ran between Preston and Blackpool North.
- May: Services between Paddington and Heathrow Terminal 4 as well as Heathrow Central and Heathrow Terminal 4 transferred from Heathrow Express to Crossrail.
- May: Resignalling on the Halton Curve that will allow trains to travel in both directions (presently trains can only travel on the line in a northbound direction) from Chester to Liverpool Lime Street (via Runcorn) was completed, allowing trains to run from May 2019.
- May: Electrification of the Cross-City Line to Bromsgrove was completed, allowing electric trains to run in July 2018.
- June: Maghull North station opened on Merseyrail's Northern line.
- July: Class 385 electric trains started running on the Edinburgh to Glasgow route.
- August: Class 802 trains entered service with Great Western Railway on the West of England line.
- August: Mark 5A coaches hauled by Class 68 locomotives began testing on the mainline prior to their introduction with Transpennine Express.
- September: Great Northern started introducing Class 717 trains on services to and from Moorgate.
- December: The first Class 195 Civity and Class 331 Civity units are scheduled to start running services on Northern's network.
- December: Electric trains start to run on the Stirling-Dunblane-Alloa line.
- December: Four-tracking of the Great Western Main Line between Dr Days Junction and Filton Abbey Wood is scheduled for completion.
- December: Refurbished Class 442 units will enter service with South Western Railway on London Waterloo to Portsmouth services.
- December: The first of 45 Class 710 Aventra units are scheduled to enter service for London Overground on the Lea Valley Lines, Gospel Oak to Barking Line, Watford DC Line and the Romford to Upminster Line.
- December: Manchester to Preston electrification is scheduled to be completed.
- March: Greater Anglia will start their complete fleet replacement by introducing the Class 720 into service.
- March: Electrification of the Shotts Line between Edinburgh and Glasgow is scheduled for compeletion.
- April: The first Stadler FLIRT trains begin operating for Greater Anglia.
- May: Electric trains start to run on the Chase Line to Walsall.
- June: Electrification of the Oxford branch of the Great Western Main Line was scheduled for completion. However, in November 2016 the government announced that electrification of this branch would be indefinitely deferred due to cost overruns and delays on the overall project.
- December: The Crossrail network will be complete with the transfer of services between Paddington and Reading from Great Western Railway to Crossrail.
- December: All of the Pacer (Class 142, Class 143 and Class 144) units must be withdrawn from service by the end of December 2019 unless they receive modifications to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act of 2005.
- December: The Thameslink Programme is scheduled for completion, allowing for 24 trains per hour between Blackfriars and St Pancras.
- December: Class 387s specially converted for use on the route will enter service for Heathrow Express.
- The first Class 800 Super Express and Class 801 Super Express trains are scheduled to be introduced on the East Coast Main Line.
- The central section of Crossrail (Paddington to Abbey Wood) will open.
- The first of twelve 5-car Class 397 Civity trains are due to enter service for TransPennine Express.
- Vivarail Class 230 units are planned to start operating on the Marston Vale line for West Midlands Railway.
- Class 769 bi-mode units converted from electric Class 319 trains are scheduled to enter service with Northern.
- South Western Railway start introducing their new Class 701 trains.
- Mark 5 coaches are due to enter service on the Caledonian Sleeper.
- Electrification of the Great Western Main Line from London to Cardiff is scheduled for completion.
- Merseyrail start introducing the first of 52 new four-car Class 777 trains to replace the three-car Class 507 and Class 508 trains they currently operate.
- West Midlands Trains start introducing their new fleet of 107 trains.
- Electrification of the Midland Main Line to Corby is scheduled for completion.
- May: Open access operator East Coast Trains start running services on the ECML.
- c2c start introducing their new fleet of six 10-car Bombardier Class 711 trains.
- Electrification of the TransPennine Line from Manchester to York is scheduled for completion.
- All of the initial fleet of CAF Civity DMUs will have entered service with Transport for Wales Rail.
- Stadler Citylink tram-trains and Flirt trains are due to begin operating with Transport for Wales Rail.
- Services due to start running on the western section of the East West Rail from Oxford to Bletchley.
- * ETCS signalling will be installed on the ECML between London and Peterborough.
Present locomotives and rolling stock
* BR Class 73 is an electro-diesel locomotive which allows electrified and non electrified route workings.
|Eurotunnel Class 9|
a BR Class 73 and 88 are electro-diesel locomotives which allow both electrified and non electrified route workings.
Diesel multiple units
AC electric multiple units
Dual AC/DC electric multiple units
DC electric multiple units
Bi-mode diesel/electric multiple units
|BR Mk II||BR Mk III|
|BR Mk IV||BR Mk III Sleeper|
Details of withdrawn locomotives and rolling stock : See article Withdrawn British Rail stock
Future rolling stock
|Mark 5 Coaches||Coaching stock||195||DMU|
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- VTEC and FirstGroup granted East Coast Main Line paths Railway Gazette International 12 May 2016
- "c2c Signs major deal for brand-new British trains".
- "Trans-Pennine and Midland Main Line electrification by 2023 as work unpaused".
- Ltd, DVV Media International. "CAF to supply Wales & Borders regional train fleet".
- "Stadler is Named Preferred Bidder to Supply 71 trains for Wales & Borders".
- "Chancellor accepts East West Rail targets and strengthens plans with extra cash". www.railtechnologymagazine.com.
- "£1.8 billion Network Rail deal to see faster trains with more capacity between Peterborough and London King's Cross".
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