Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 15:50 UK

West Coast rail upgrade approved

Rail passengers await coaches at Rugby
Campaigners say passengers should not have to use replacement buses

Rail regulators have accepted a revised plan for completing the 8.6bn upgrade of the West Coast Mainline.

Operator Network Rail (NR) will now press ahead with weekend closures throughout the summer to modernise the London to Scotland route by December.

But the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) warned NR it must make every effort to minimise disruption to passengers.

In January, the ORR fined NR a record 14m after three New Year engineering projects overran.

Vital rail link

Earlier this year, NR said it would have to close parts of the West Coast Mainline (WCML) on regular weekends as well as bank holidays in order to get the work done by December.

Passengers and campaigners agreed to this on the grounds that it would shorten the overall period of disruption, but the ORR said it would be "closely monitoring delivery of the plan".

Our plans deliver a big prize for passengers and freight users alike in the shortest time possible
Iain Coucher
Chief executive of Network Rail

Access planning and performance director Michael Lee said: "It is clear that most people want to see the improvements made this year.

"Passengers will unfortunately face increased disruption while this work is being done, but will benefit from the new timetables in December 2008.

"We are very conscious of the adverse impact on rail freight, and NR needs to do all it can to ease the effect of its engineering work on users of the railway.

"It is vital that NR now delivers this plan."

Engineering work overran on the WCLM at Rugby in the West Midlands at New Year. The station will now be closed every weekend until December to finish the job.

Work was also not completed on time at Liverpool Street Station in London causing major problems for commuters returning to work after the festive break.

'More than worthwhile'

Chief executive of NR Iain Coucher said: "Our plans deliver a big prize for passengers and freight users alike in the shortest time possible, with 30% more long-distance services and significantly improved journey times across the West Coast route by the end of the year.

It is not right that passengers should be expected to pay the same fare when they are not getting the service they paid for
Anthony Smith
Passenger Focus

"We recognise that this massive engineering undertaking will continue to cause disruption to services along the route for the rest of the year, especially at weekends and bank holidays, but the significant benefits that will be delivered make it more than worthwhile."

Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Passenger Focus, said he believed pressing ahead with all the the work this year was "the best outcome under the circumstances".

He said alternative rail services should be provided wherever possible rather than relying on replacement bus services.

Passenger Focus is also calling for train operators to compensate passengers who are forced to use replacement buses.

Mr Smith said: "It is not right that passengers should be expected to pay the same fare when they are not getting the service they paid for."




SEE ALSO
Passenger disruption to continue
20 Apr 08 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
More rail delays for passengers
01 Jan 08 |  England
Urgent inquiry into rail delays
03 Jan 08 |  England
Q&A: Network Rail
24 May 07 |  Business

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