Page last updated at 15:09 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 16:09 UK

UK railways 'must boost capacity'

Train on the West Coast Mainline
The West Coast mainline will reach capacity by 2010, train operators say

Britain's railways may need to double their capacity in the next 30 years to cope with demand from passengers, according to train operators.

In a joint report with infrastructure owner Network Rail, they say long-term plans must be made within five years.

New lines will need to be built as well as extra trains added, it says.

A new high-speed London to Scotland line and the electrification of the Great Western and Midland main lines are among the options it suggests.

Up to three times as many passengers could be travelling on the railways by 2020, according to the report from Network Rail, the Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) and the Rail Freight Operators' Association.

It says demand for rail could even triple in the period beyond 2040.

'Need to plan'

Network Rail planning and regulation director Paul Plummer said: "With railway assets having a typical life of between 30 to 60 years, a long-term strategic view of what our railways will need to deliver in the decades ahead is essential."

Atoc chief executive Michael Roberts said the thinking should be "based on a thorough understanding of how our customers' needs may change in the period ahead".

Growth on the scale that we expect will require widespread - and in some cases radical - changes to the network
Train operators' report

He added: "We need to start planning for tomorrow's railway today."

Rail users watchdog Passenger Focus said passengers would "welcome the commitment by industry to plan for the railway's long term future".

Director Ashwin Kumar said: "It is promising that the industry is pledging to work with Passenger Focus to make certain it understands passengers' points of view and we look forward to ongoing discussions with rail companies to make sure that passenger needs are put at the heart of long-term plans."

Flights replaced

The report says there is an "urgent need" for more trains, with two major procurement programmes already under way.

It says the number of trains is now only 5% greater than it was in 1994, yet they are carrying 60% more passengers.

But problems with capacity cannot be addressed with new trains alone, the report warns.

It says: "Growth on the scale that we expect will require widespread - and in some cases radical - changes to the network."

The reports claims that if capacity is increased, including new high speed lines, internal flights could be all but replaced.

A study into the feasibility of building new lines alongside five of the UK's busiest routes will be published in the summer.

The railways will have to be available all week round, despite the pressure of engineering work, and severe delays should be a thing of the past
Tom Symonds
BBC transport correspondent

The routes include the East Coast main line, West Coast main line, the Great Western main line, the Midland main line and the Chiltern route.

The report also says capacity problems need to be addressed on routes to Kent, Brighton and the South West.

In January, the government announced it was creating a new company - High Speed 2 - to consider the case for new services from London to the west Midlands and then on to Scotland.

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said at the time that the line would provide a direct link with a hub at Heathrow.

The Conservatives have also proposed creating a new high speed line linking London St Pancras, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. They say it could cut Heathrow flights by 66,000 a year.

The industry report says electrification of Britain's railways should be the goal "wherever it is economically viable". It argues that electrification offers a number of benefits, including reduced carbon emissions and increased capacity.

It recommends the electrification of the most heavily used parts of the Great Western main line and the Midland main line, as well as pursuing schemes between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The BBC's transport correspondent Tom Symonds said the report was "a concerted effort by the train companies and Network Rail to think about the long-term future of the railways".

He said that if the predictions prove to be true: "The railways will have to be available all week round, despite the pressure of engineering work, and severe delays should be a thing of the past."

The report says the network should get to the point where it does not have to rely on replacement bus services used during maintenance work and line closures.

The report also says that track-side signals and telephones will be eradicated with trains being controlled by computer and digital radio technology.

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