1 Sep 2008

Last day to sign petition to redouble rail track

The petition to redouble rail track between Swindon and Kemble closes tomorrow: 2nd September - please sign petition here:

Photo: Rail freight

The local press last week have covered David Drew leafleting rail travelers to gain support for the redoubling - regular blog readers will know this is an issue I have also campaigned on - see my most recent blog with more background info here including addresses to write to, the wider picture and stuff from rail journalist Christian Wolmar. If you have time to write please do tonight! Consultation ends 4th September.

The second line was closed in the 1960s creating a bottleneck which has hampered good rail connections in the area ever since. The Office of Rail Regulation is expected to make a final decision in October.

More background stuff (taken from Glos County Council and Transition Stroud Transport Group)

The Stroud Valley Line is the railway route connecting Gloucestershire with London and the South-East. It branches from the Birmingham – Bristol main line south of Gloucester, and joins the Great Western Railway route from South Wales to London at Swindon. Around two-thirds of the line is double track, but between Kemble and Swindon it is single track. This length of single track restricts the capacity of this route, and therefore constrains the level of rail service that can be provided on this critical connection for Gloucestershire. There is therefore, presently, very little opportunity to expand rail services between Gloucestershire and Swindon /London.

For a number of years, the Gloucestershire community has campaigned for improvements to be made to this line, notably the reinstatement of double track on the Kemble-Swindon section of the route. Network Rail has undertaken design work on a scheme to do this and has identified the construction cost to be approximately £38 million. This includes minor associated signalling works.

Network Rail identified the business case for this scheme to be a good one, with the Benefit-Cost Ratio (BCR) being calculated as at least 9:1. This far exceeds the threshold identified by the Department for Transport (DfT) for a robust business case, which is a BCR of 2:1. It also compares favourably with accepted schemes such as Crossrail, for which the BCR is 1.9:1. On this basis, Network Rail included the Kemble – Swindon re-doubling in its provisional business plan for 2009-14.

The Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR) has recently published its Draft Determination on the Network Rail business plan for 2009-14. This includes the investment over this period on the rail network that the ORR considers to be acceptable, and identifies a £7.1 billion programme of works across England and Wales. This programme does not include the re-doubling of the Kemble-Swindon line. The ORR report has been issued for consultation, with comments to be submitted by 4th September 2008.

The ORR’s Final Determination will be published in late October. If the ORR is not convinced by the consultation feedback that the Kemble-Swindon scheme should be included in Network Rail’s business plan, there will be little prospect of the improvement being programmed until 2014-19 at the earliest. The main criteria that were used by the ORR in reaching their recommendations are listed below:-

1. The need to nationally improve performance (Public Performance Measure - PPM) to 93%
2. Accommodate a passenger demand growth of 22.5%, and freight demand growth of 30%
3. The need to ensure that the “railway is open for as much as the time as possible”

The issues that do not appear to have been considered in this assessment include:-

- The need to ensure that the “the railway is open for as much time as possible” by providing a diversionary route for freight and passenger trains. For passenger services this would reduce the need to rely on bus replacement services, especially on Sunday afternoons which on certain routes can be one of the busiest periods of the week.
- More specifically provide a robust diversionary route between South Wales and London that can operate over long periods without the need to disrupt local services. At present only a limited service can be operated between South Wales and London and local services will be affected by the need to accommodate diverted services. The diversion of South Wales – London services via the Stroud Valley would add 20 minutes to journey times. This is preferable to bus replacement.
- Consideration of the major investment programme planned for the Severn Tunnel Route which will mean that the Stroud Valley route will be required for diversionary purposes. This is part of a £400m investment programme for South Wales.
- The implications of travel demand generated by the additional housing proposed by the draft Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) for the South-West. 56,400 dwellings are proposed for Gloucestershire between 2006 and 2026, and 53,900 in Swindon, North Wiltshire and Kennet (34,200 of these are in Swindon).
- The implications on future inward investment into Gloucestershire if connectivity with London and South East is not enhanced. Inward investment needs to keep pace with anticipated housing and population growth. Good connectivity with London and South East is seen as being important to attracting inward investment, and retaining existing industries.
- The need to facilitate modal shift on the Cheltenham/Gloucester/Stroud/Swindon Corridor to reduce congestion on the A417 trunk road between Gloucester and Swindon. An enhanced rail service could help facilitate this by encouraging modal shift. Re-doubling is required before such service improvements could take place. The dualling of the A417 trunk road between Cowley and Brockworth, would cost around £250 million to build and no obvious source of funding currently exists. (The Eddington Report acknowledged congestion on the A417).
- The North Swindon station proposal by Swindon Borough Council.

There was an Adjournment Debate on the Kemble – Swindon Line on 30th June. In the debate, the Minister for Transport (Tom Harris) confirmed his awareness of the underlying issues and invited the rail industry to re-submit its business case to the ORR. He also offered the assistance of his officials at DfT for the re-submission of this case. Network Rail would have the lead role in this re-submission. The £7.1 billion programme does include an allowance of £50 million for future development work, and another £220 million for general investment programmes on smaller schemes. Of this £160m is understood to be allocated to ensuring the “railway is open for as much time as possible”. So there are opportunities to bring this scheme into the programme without significantly impacting upon those major schemes already included. In addition, this scheme will open up new opportunities to manage the direct and indirect consequences of government policies (e.g. Regional Spatial Strategy), and provides a strong case for assigning extra funding to the overall programme.

The benefits of Redoubling the Gloucester to Swindon Railway Line between Kemble and Swindon (Stroud Valley Line): Adapted from GCC paper

1. Strategic route linking Gloucestershire with London. Good connectivity with London and the South East and on to the West Midlands will benefit the Gloucestershire, regional and national economy.
2. Strategic route linking Wiltshire and Swindon with Gloucestershire and the West Midlands. Assists potential provision for a new station to the north of Swindon.
3. The line is a key diversionary route for the London – South Wales main line. The route via Gloucester and the Stroud Valley Line acts as a diversionary route when the Severn Tunnel is closed for maintenance and for freight traffic that is unable to use the tunnel. The Stroud Valley line also offers an alternative route for trains travelling between Bristol Parkway and Swindon.
The line could have a crucial role to play in ensuring the achievement of a “7 day railway open for business all the time”.
4. The line provides an alternative route for services connecting the West Midlands with the South Coast and the South East.
5. Opportunities for growth of both passenger and freight traffic in line with the objective set by the ORR
6. In line with the objectives set by the ORR, help Network Rail reduce engineering costs and improve efficiency through longer possessions and-or blockades
7. Encourages more sustainable travel via modal shift and helps satisfy travel demand generated by the additional housing proposed by the Regional Spatial Strategy for the South West. Reduces congestion on the A417 trunk road between Gloucester and Swindon.

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