Network Rail has recently unveiled an extensive strategic statement that lays out its ambitious vision for the East-West Main Line (EWML), aiming to revolutionise connectivity between Cardiff and Norwich. While the East West Rail (EWR) program, currently in progress between Oxford and Cambridge, falls under the jurisdiction of the East-West Railway Co (EWR Co), Network Rail's strategic statement goes beyond the existing plans, outlining its intentions to extend and integrate the network even further in the future. With this document, Network Rail envisions a long-term blueprint for the EWML, exploring various possibilities for expansion beyond the initial EWR configuration.
At the heart of Network Rail's objectives is the desire to extend passenger services across a much broader geographic area compared to the current scope. The strategic statement emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the infrastructure changes implemented for the EWR do not hinder the potential for future services to additional locations. A key focus is on optimising journey times by determining the most appropriate service frequency and patterns. Furthermore, the document places great significance on exploring new national routing options for freight, aiming to enhance efficiency in the movement of goods. In line with efforts to decarbonise the rail network, Network Rail places a high priority on electrifying the EWML, which would not only improve rolling stock performance but also align with the broader Traction Decarbonisation Network Strategy (TDNS). Additionally, the integration of the European Traffic Control System digital signalling is proposed as a means to bolster capacity and facilitate future growth.
To realise this comprehensive vision for the EWML, Network Rail recognises the urgency of promptly addressing emergent constraints. These constraints primarily stem from the interface between the EWR and the existing rail network. To tackle these challenges head-on, Network Rail commits to working closely with the Department for Transport (DfT) and EWR Co, leveraging their collective expertise and resources.
The strategic statement highlights several specific constraints that have been identified and warrant immediate attention. For instance, the insufficient capacity at Oxford station necessitates substantial remodelling to accommodate existing and future EWR services effectively. Similarly, the Aylesbury Claydo line, currently a single track, would require significant infrastructure upgrades to support seamless EWR services between Aylesbury and Milton Keynes. Moreover, extensive timetable development has indicated potential reliability issues with the East-West Railway Co base specification on the West Coast Main Line, potentially requiring the utilization of capacity freed up by the High-Speed Two (HS2) project. The Marston Vale Line, which is set to become part of the EWR between Bletchley and Bedford, demands enhanced infrastructure and possible station rationalisation to ensure acceptable journey times and connectivity. Given the constraints on the heavily burdened Midland Main Line, the construction of new infrastructure may be necessary to segregate east/west services from the existing main lines, thus safeguarding main line operability. Furthermore, plans for a new high/low-level station at the interface between the EWR and the East Coast Main Line call for careful considerations regarding service patterns and the optimisation of passenger interchange. Expanding EWR services beyond Cambridge would involve intricate and costly railway remodelling in the surrounding area. Additionally, as alternative strategic routes for freight and comprehensive electrification plans are pursued, the inclusion of additional connections and infrastructure will likely be imperative.
The strategic statement released by Network Rail represents a comprehensive and forward-thinking approach to the development of the EWML. The specific interventions required to address the identified constraints will undergo the rigorous business case evaluation process, as stipulated by the Department for Transport (DfT). Network Rail's strategic vision aligns with the long-term objectives set by the government and the rail industry, aiming to deliver transformative outcomes for the entire rail network.