The DfT news of improvements to the rail system is welcome. The key criteria for the works are better connectivity between and within regions and acceleration of services.
The eye-opener is the re-opening and electrification of the Bedford-Northampton line. Thameslink services will be extended from Bedford to Rugby. This, together with the building of the eastern section of the Varsity Line between Bedford and Cambridge, will open up new travel opportunities between the West Midlands and East Anglia.
In the East Midlands the Erewash Valley line between Trowell and Trent will again see regular express services between Sheffield and Leicester as attempts are made to reduce journey times between Sheffield and London. London-Derby services will not continue to Sheffield.
Preliminary work is to commence on re-opening the line between Plymouth and Okehampton to provide a diversionary route to the coast route via Dawlish.
No progress has been made in the attempts to re-open the Uckfield-Lewes line. The negative report, commissioned by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has not helped, nor the news that consideration is being given to developing a fast service between Ashford and Reading via Tonbridge, Redhill and Guildford. However, there is talk of a private consortium prepared to meet the cost of the proposals for BML2. What would happen to the Spa Valley Railway?
On a more positive note, the go-ahead has been given to the reinstating of passenger services between March and Wisbech.
Finally, the biggest beneficiary is Chiltern Railways. It will take on the franchise for the Varsity Line services and also will gain running rights on the line between Birmingham New Street and Wolverhampton. The latter will enable the operation of a through service between London Marylebone and Chester without having to detour round the outskirts of Birmingham. Chiltern will also take on the operation of the NUCLE route from Nuneaton to Leamington Spa via Coventry as a precursor to the development of a London-Leicester service via this line. To deal with the problem of capacity at Marylebone it is proposed that the line from South Ruislip be reinstated to enable some services to terminate at Old Oak Common and thus provide an interchange with HS2 and Crossrail.