FENCING ALONGSIDE the West Coast Main Line between London and Rugby — the busiest mixed-traffic main line in Europe — should be upgraded to High Speed Rail standards to stop trespassers, cable thieves, suicidal people and animals gaining access and causing huge delays to train services.
This is one of the key proposals contained in a report into the continuing poor reliability of train services on the WCML where Virgin Trains’ services are regularly at the bottom of the long-distance performance league — even after completion four years ago of the £9 billion West Coast Route Modernisation Programme.
In the last four-week period up to 10 November only 83.2 per cent of Virgin Trains services reached their destinations within 10 minutes of schedule, and only 82.7 per cent of London Midland trains were within five minutes of right time.
The WCML reliability report has been prepared by Virgin Trains’ Chief Operating Officer Chris Gibb, working with Network Rail. During his secondment, which has now finished, he led a programme examining ways to improve performance of all trains using the 133-kilometre Rugby-London Euston route.
So serious was concern for the continuing poor performance on the WCML that the study was overseen by a Joint Board chaired by Network Rail’s chief executive David Higgins, and attended by the managing directors of all the passenger and freight train operators using the line. The Joint Board has now decided to continue to meet during 2013.
Chris Gibb’s report discloses that there are now more than 330 initiatives under way to raise performance and cut delays on Britain’s busiest main line trunk route.
The report says suicides are one of the biggest delay causes.
In the UK, suicides fell by 20 per cent over 20 years until 2008, but “they have risen steadily since — 4,200 per annum, of which six per cent  are on the railway,” according to Chris Gibb, who adds that Network Rail is aiming to achieve a 20 per cent reduction over five years in conjunction with the Samaritans.
As an example of just one serious incident, Chris Gibb cites a fatality on 29 October at Apsley near Watford on the Down Fast line at 15.40. “It was not until 17.30 that two tracks reopened for services to resume,” he says.
This single incident “caused 8,709 delay minutes, 82 full and 53 part cancellations and severe customer service issues for London Midland and Virgin Trains for the rest of the day” — and cost Network Rail approximately £850,000 in compensation to train operators.
Chris Gibb states: “Network Rail has recently introduced a new fencing standard, and plans to comply with this between Rugby and Euston are being developed.
“If we wish to effectively limit access to the WCML between Rugby and Euston for trespassers, cable thieves, suicidal people and animals, we should seriously think about upgrading fencing to HS1 standards.”
He says: “As with so many other aspects of the infrastructure, West Coast South is a patchwork of high security fencing and post and wire.”
But in France, where there is little fencing on ‘classic’ lines, there are over 400 suicides annually at present (with a record of 45 in October) — “but less than three per cent are on Ligne à Grande Vitesse routes which have HS1-standard fencing and few accessible platforms,” says Chris Gibb.
He therefore recommends Network Rail looks to install fencing to HS1-standards on the Euston-Rugby section by 31 March 2014.
In a statement voicing concerns over the lack of progress in improving infrastructure performance on the WCML, Virgin Trains said: “Our customers have shown great loyalty and we owe it to them to demand far better infrastructure performance. We need Network Rail to take full responsibility and make sure that improvements are introduced quickly so that we can deliver the standard of service that customers rightly demand.”
Virgin said 70 per cent of its delays were caused by infrastructure faults, and Network Rail had promised to implement Chris Gibb’s recommendations.
Other major causes of delay on the WCML between Euston and Rugby were shown to be track faults; defects with both overhead and third rail electrification equipment; point failures; and axle counter and track circuit failures.
•• We shall report further on Chris Gibb’s report and recommendations in the next print edition of Railnews, published on 9 January 2013.