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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
'Tighter grip' on rail delays
Virgin tilting train
The trains were built to travel 140mph
The Government's new Strategic Rail Authority has announced plans to "get a grip" on the delays and soaring costs of the West Coast Mainline modernisation project.

New proposals mean trains will travel no faster than 125mph compared to the original plans for tilting trains running at 140mph.


What we now have is clear leadership in the railways, a clear sense of direction

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling

The SRA, which monitors rail performance targets, blames the cost of the project, which has risen from 2bn to nearly 10bn.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the proposals demonstrated the SRA was "getting to grips with this project" .

But he warned passengers faced severe delays from next year as parts of track were shut "for quite long periods" to allow the work to be completed.

Mr Darling said: "What we now have is clear leadership in the railways, a clear sense of direction.

"We are getting to grips with the cost."

Track closure

Mr Darling, however, hit out at Railtrack, saying it had "grossly underestimated" the state of the track and the costs.

He added: "It is clear though that what they had in mind had not been thought out, had not been costed and there wasn't actually a plan for delivering it."

The decision to cut speed limits is a blow to Virgin Rail which has bought 53 new tilting trains, designed to reach 140mph.

Modernisation: Key features
London to Manchester journey reduced to two hours from autumn 2004
London to Glasgow trip down to four hours 30 mins by 2006
Capacity for 80% more long distance trains
Up to 12 rush-hour trains per hour out of London
Four London trains an hour to Birmingham by autumn 2004
Improvements on other trains using the route

The SRA described the plan to rebuild the West Coast main line as a "mess".

But it insists the revised scheme will mean significant improvements to the service.

There will be four trains an hour between London and Birmingham and three an hour to Manchester.

Virgin paid around 1bn for the fleet of tilting trains.

Allowing them to tilt between Manchester and Glasgow at 125mph will still reduce journey times on that stretch by nearly half an hour.

It was confirmed in August that a 40-mile stretch of the West Coast mainline near Stoke will shut next summer in an attempt to cut costs and speed up track improvements.

It will close for another four months in 2004 for further upgrades.

But the SRA said in August the plans to introduce high-speed tilting trains between London and Glasgow were not in doubt.

Virgin has always said that it would have to be compensated if the project is scrapped.


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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Simon Montague
"Plans to carry passengers at 140mph have been derailed"
Peter Robinson, West Coast Rail 250
"The West Coast route is already 20 years behind the rest of the network"

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