In a recent study into the Bristol to Birmingham rail corridor, Network Rail suggested that it will be necessary to increase the track capacity between Bristol Parkway and Westerleigh Junction, near Yate, from two tracks to four. Westerleigh Junction will also need to be improved to connect with these additional lines.*
Trains from London to South Wales share this section of line with those from the South-West to the Midlands. It has almost no capacity for additional services. This means there is little scope to improve the frequency of local trains between Bristol and Gloucester or longer distance trains from Bristol to Birmingham. It would also be hard to add new services such as Severn Beach to Yate.
Adding extra tracks between Parkway and Westerleigh will be expensive. Much of the route is on viaducts or embankments, or in cuttings.
Network Rail point out that “no feasibility work has been undertaken on this option and the complexity is understood”. They then go on to say that:
This intervention, together with the others already discussed in the southern part of the study corridor, would allow parallel departures from Bristol Parkway, thereby enabling the 4tph [trains per hour] Bristol Gloucester service. However, significant benefits would be realised for a range of other passenger and freight services as a result of this scheme. For example, these include the aspirations for GWR service improvements on the Great Western Main Line (GWML); future passenger services between the West of England/Oxfordshire/East-West Rail orbital route; and both through freights and those requiring access to Stoke Gifford yard. These plans would be expected to support the business case for such an intervention.Network Rail
Although the study does not mention it, these interventions could also improve the chances of reintroducing a passenger service to Thornbury. Junction constraints at Westerleigh are a major obstacle to this.
Why not use the old Midland route instead?
At first glance this route looks like an attractive alternative. It passes beneath the London-South Wales line, so there would be no conflict between north-south and east-west traffic. However there are a number of reasons why it is impractical:
Firstly it is in use as one of the most popular active travel routes in the country. It is already proving difficult to find enough space for cyclists, walkers and other users, without attempting to fit in a main line railway.
Secondly, there are a number of places where development has blocked the main line of the route. At Shortwood, for example, the A4174 road occupies over a kilometre of the trackbed.
Finally, this route could not easily serve the important interchange station at Bristol Parkway. This factor on its own is probably sufficient to rule it out.
Of the proposals listed in the Network Rail study, four tracks from Bristol Parkway to Yate has the greatest significance for local train services in the West of England. But some of the other interventions it recommends are also worth noting.
At the Birmingham end of the corridor, the study proposes that Bristol to Birmingham trains terminate at Moor Street station instead of New Street. These services would use the Camp Hill line together with a new chord on a viaduct at Bordesley. Moor Street station is adjacent to the new station at Curzon Street, making it easier to connect with HS2.
Further south, the study suggests that new bay platforms will be required at Cheltenham and Gloucester. It also proposes additional or extended passing loops at various locations. Charfield, where the West of England Combined Authority propose a new station, is one potential location
Will it happen?
This study is backed by Western Gateway and Midlands Connect Subnational Transport Bodies, together with various other stakeholders. An investment of this size will probably need to enter the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP) process. More study will be required before this process is initiated.
FoSBR fully support these enhancements and will give whatever assistance we can to move them forward.
* This study is no longer available online. We have made a copy available here for reference.