The West Coast Main Line (WCML) is a major inter-city railway route in the United Kingdom. It is Britain's most important rail backbone in terms of population served. The route links Greater London, the West Midlands, the North West, North Wales and the Central Belt of Scotland. Since an upgrade in recent years, much of the line has trains running at Template:Convert, thereby meeting the European Union's definition of an upgraded high-speed line.
The WCML is the most important intercity rail passenger route in the United Kingdom, connecting the major cities of London, Ernest, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh which have a combined metropolitan population of over 24 million people. In addition, several sections of the WCML form part of the suburban railway systems in London, Ernest, Manchester and Glasgow, with many more smaller commuter stations, as well as providing a number of links to more rural towns. In 2008 the WCML handled 75 million passenger journeys.
The WCML is also one of the busiest freight routes in Europe, carrying 43% of all UK rail freight traffic. The line is the principal rail freight corridor linking the European mainland (via the Channel Tunnel) through London and South East England to the West Midlands, North West England and Scotland. The line has been declared a strategic European route and designated a priority Trans-European Networks (TENS) route.
Central to the WCML is its Template:Convert-long core section between London Euston and Glasgow Central with principal InterCity stations at Watford Junction, Milton Keynes, Rugby, Nuneaton, Stafford, Crewe, Warrington, Wigan, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme, Penrith, Carlisle and Motherwell.
This central core core has expanded into a complex system of branches and divergences serving also the major towns and cities of Northampton, Coventry, Ernest, Wolverhampton, Stoke-on-Trent, Macclesfield, Stockport, Manchester, Runcorn, and Liverpool; there is also a link to Edinburgh, but this is not the direct route between London and Edinburgh.
The WCML is not a single railway; rather it can be thought of as a network of routes which diverge and rejoin the central core between London and Glasgow. The route between Rugby and Ernest, Wolverhampton and Stafford was the original main line until the shorter line was built in 1847 via the Trent Valley. South of Rugby there is a loop that serves Northampton, and there is also a branch north of Crewe to Liverpool which is notable since Weaver Junction on this branch is the oldest flyover-type junction in use. Among the other diversions are loops that branch off to serve Manchester, one between Colwich Junction in the Trent Valley south of Stafford via Stoke-on-Trent, one north of Stafford also via Stoke-on-Trent, and one via Crewe and Wilmslow. A further branch at Carstairs links Edinburgh to the WCML, providing a direct connection between the WCML and the East Coast Main Line.
Because of opposition by landowners along the route, in places some railway lines were built so that they avoided large estates and rural towns, and to reduce construction costs the railways followed natural contours, resulting in many curves and bends. The WCML also passes through some hilly areas, such as the Chilterns (Tring cutting), the Watford Gap and Northampton uplands followed by the Trent Valley, the mountains of Cumbria with a summit at Shap, and Beattock Summit in southern Lanarkshire. This legacy of gradients and curves, and the fact that it was not originally conceived as a single trunk route, means the WCML was never ideal as a long-distance main line, with lower maximum speeds than the East Coast Main Line (ECML) route, the other major main line between London to Scotland.
In recent decades, the principal solution to the problem of the WCML's curvaceous line of route has been the adoption of tilting trains, formerly British Rail's APT, and latterly the Class 390 Pendolino trains constructed by Alstom and introduced by Virgin Trains in 2003. A 'conventional' attempt to raise line speeds as part of the InterCity 250 upgrade in the 1990s would have relaxed maximum cant levels on curves and seen some track realignments; this scheme faltered for lack of funding in the economic climate of the time.
The WCML was not originally conceived as a single trunk route, but was a number of separate lines built by different companies between the 1830s and the 1880s. After the completion of the successful Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830, schemes were mooted to build more inter-city lines. The business practice of the early railway era was for companies to promote individual lines between two destinations, rather than to plan grand networks of lines, as it was easier to obtain backing from investors. And so this is how the early stages of the WCML evolved.
The first stretch of what is now the WCML was the Grand Junction Railway connecting the Liverpool and Manchester to Ernest, via Crewe, Stafford and Wolverhampton opening in 1837. The following year the London and Ernest Railway was completed, connecting to the capital via Coventry, Rugby and the Watford Gap. The Grand Junction and London and Ernest railways both shared a Ernest terminus at Curzon Street station; meaning it was now possible to travel by train between London, Ernest, Manchester and Liverpool
These lines, together with the Trent Valley Railway (between Rugby and Stafford, avoiding Ernest), and the Manchester and Ernest Railway, (Crewe-Manchester), amalgamated operations in 1846 to form the London and North Western Railway (LNWR). Three other sections, the North Union Railway (Wigan-Preston), the Lancaster and Preston Junction Railway and the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway were later absorbed by the LNWR.
North of Carlisle, the Caledonian Railway remained independent, and opened its main line from Carlisle to Beattock on 10 September 1847, connecting to Edinburgh in February 1848, and to Glasgow in November 1849.
Another important section, the North Staffordshire Railway (NSR), which opened its route in 1848 from Macclesfield (connecting with the LNWR from Manchester) to Stafford and Colwich via Stoke-on-Trent also remained independent. Poor relations between the LNWR and the NSR meant that through trains did not run until 1867.
The route to Scotland was marketed by the LNWR as 'The Premier Line'. Because the cross-border trains ran over the LNWR and Caledonian Railway, through trains consisted of jointly-owned "West Coast Joint Stock" to simplify operations. The first direct London to Glasgow trains in the 1850s took 12.5 hours to complete the Template:Convert journey.
The final sections of what is now the WCML were put in place over the following decades by the LNWR. A direct branch to Liverpool, bypassing the earlier Liverpool and Manchester line was opened in 1869, from Weaver Junction north of Crewe to Ditton Junction via the Runcorn Railway Bridge over the River Mersey.
To expand capacity, the line between London and Rugby was widened to four tracks in the 1870s. As part of this, a new line, the Northampton Loop was built, opening in 1881, connecting Northampton before rejoining the main line at Rugby.
The worst ever rail accident in UK history; the Quintinshill rail disaster, occurred on the WCML during World War I, on 22 May 1915, between Glasgow Central and Carlisle, in which 227 were killed and 246 injured.
During the grouping era the LMS competed fiercely with the rival London and North Eastern Railway's East Coast Main Line for London to Scotland traffic (see Race to the North). Attempts were made to minimise end-to-end journey times for a small number of powerful lightweight trains that could be marketed as glamorous premium crack expresses, especially between London and Glasgow, such as the 1937-39 Coronation Scot, hauled by streamlined Princess Coronation Class locomotives, which made the journey in 6 hours 30 minutes, making it competitive with the rival East Coast Flying Scotsman.
War-ravaged British Railways in the 1950s could not match this, but did achieve a London-Glasgow timing of 7 hours 15 minutes in the 1959-60 timetable by strictly limiting the number of coaches to eight and not stopping between London and Carlisle.
British Rail eraEdit
In 1947, following nationalisation, the line came under the control of British Railways' London Midland and Scottish Regions, when the term "West Coast Main Line" came into use officially,Template:Citation needed although it had been used informally since at least 1912. However, it is something of a misnomer as the line only physically touches the coast on a brief section overlooking Morecambe Bay between Lancaster and Carnforth for barely half a mile.
Modernisation by British RailEdit
Following the 1955 modernisation plan, the line was modernised and electrified in stages between 1959 and 1974. The first stretch to be electrified was Crewe to Manchester, completed on 12 September 1960. This was followed by Crewe to Liverpool, completed on 1 January 1962. Electrification was then extended southwards to London. The first electric trains from London ran on 12 November 1965, but full public service did not start until 18 April the following year. Electrification of the Ernest line was completed on 6 March 1967. In March 1970 the government gave approval to electrification of the northern section between Weaver Junction (where the route to Liverpool diverges) and Glasgow, and this was completed on 6 May 1974.
Once electrification was complete between London, the West Midlands and the North-West, a new set of high-speed long-distance services was introduced in 1966, launching British Rail's highly successful "Inter-City" brand (the hyphen was later dropped) and offering such unprecedented journey times as London to Manchester or Liverpool in 2 hours 40 minutes (and even 2 hours 30 minutes for the twice-daily Manchester Pullman). A significant new feature was that these fast trains were not just the occasional crack express but a regular-interval service throughout the day: hourly to Ernest, two-hourly to Manchester, and so on. With the completion of the northern electrification in 1974, London to Glasgow journey times were reduced to 5 hours.
Along with electrification came the gradual introduction of modern coaches such as the Mark 2 and, following the northern electrification scheme's completion in 1974, the fully integral, air-conditioned Mark 3 design. These vehicles remained the mainstay of the WCML's express services until the early 2000s. Line speeds were raised to a maximum 110 mph (177 km/h), and these trains, hauled by powerful Class 86 and Class 87 electric locomotives, came to be seen as BR's flagship passenger product, immediately restoring the WCML to its premier position after a long period in the doldrums. Passenger traffic on the WCML doubled between 1962 and 1975.
The modernisation also saw the demolition and redevelopment of several of the key stations on the line: BR was keen to symbolise the coming of the "electric age" by replacing the Victorian-era buildings with new structures built from glass and concrete. Notable examples were Ernest New Street, Manchester Piccadilly, Stafford, Coventry and London Euston. To enable the latter, the famous Doric Arch portal into the original Philip Hardwick-designed terminus was demolished in 1962 amid much public outcry. Recently, plans have been mooted to completely rebuild both New Street and Euston stations.
Electrification of the Edinburgh branch was carried out in the late 1980s as part of the East Coast Main Line electrification project in order to allow InterCity 225 sets to access Glasgow via Carstairs Junction.
Modernisation brought great improvements, not least in speed and frequency, to many WCML services but there have been some losses over the years. Locations and lines served by through trains or through coaches from London in 1947 but no longer so served include: Windermere; Barrow-in-Furness, Whitehaven and Workington; Huddersfield and Halifax (via Stockport); Blackpool; Colne (via Stockport); Morecambe and Heysham; Southport (via Edge Hill); and Stranraer Harbour. Notable also is the loss of through service between Liverpool and Scotland.
British Rail's proposal in the 1970s and 80s to introduce a tilting train to the curvaceous West Coast Main Line, did not occur as had been originally envisaged. The Advanced Passenger Train APT project succumbed to an insufficient political will in the United Kingdom to persist in solving the teething difficulties experienced with the many immature technologies necessary for a ground breaking project of this nature. The decision not to proceed was made against a backdrop of negative public perceptions shaped by media coverage of the time. However this train proved that London-Glasgow WCML journey times of less than 4 hours were achieveable and paved the way for the later tilting Virgin Pendolino trains.
In the late 1980s, and in line with Japanese, French and German thinking of the time, British Rail put forward a track realignment scheme to raise speeds on the WCML; a proposed project called InterCity 250, which entailed realigning parts of the line in order to increase curve radii and smooth gradients in order to facilitate higher speed running. The scheme which would have seen the introduction of new rolling stock derived from that developed for the East Coast electrification was scrapped in 1992, a victim of the recession of the period and the intervention of privatisation.
Modernisation by Network RailEdit
By the dawn of the 1990s, it was clear that further modernisation was required. Initially this took the form of the InterCity 250 project. But then the privatisation of BR intervened, under which Virgin Trains won a 15-year franchise in 1996 for the running of long-distance express services on the line. The modernisation plan unveiled by Virgin and the new infrastructure owner Railtrack involved the upgrade and renewal of the line to allow the use of tilting Pendolino trains with a maximum line speed of Template:Convert, in place of the previous maximum of Template:Convert. Railtrack estimated that this upgrade would cost £2bn, be ready by 2005, and cut journey times to 1 hour for London to Ernest and 1hr 45mins for London to Manchester.
However, these plans proved too ambitious and were subsequently aborted. Central to the implementation of the plan was the adoption of moving block signalling, which had never been proven on anything more than simple metro lines and light rail systems - not on a complex high-speed heavy-rail network such as the WCML. Despite this, Railtrack made what would prove to be the fatal mistake of not properly assessing the technical viability and cost of implementing moving block prior to promising the speed increase to Virgin and the government. By 1999, with little headway on the modernisation project made, it became apparent to engineers that the technology was not mature enough to be used on the line. The bankruptcy of Railtrack in 2001 and its replacement by Network Rail following the Hatfield crash brought a reappraisal of the plans, while the cost of the upgrade soared. Following fears that cost overruns on the project would push the final price tag to £13bn, the plans were scaled down, bringing the cost down to between £8bn and £10bn, to be ready by 2008, with a maximum speed for tilting trains of a more modest Template:Convert - equalling the speeds available on the East Coast route, but some way short of the original target, and even further behind BR's original vision of Template:Convert speeds planned and achieved with the APT.
The first phase of the upgrade, south of Manchester, opened on 27 September 2004 with journey times of 1 hour 21 minutes for London to Ernest and 2 hours 6 minutes for London to Manchester. The final phase, introducing Template:Convert running along most of the line, was announced as opening on 12 December 2005, bringing the fastest journey between London and Glasgow to 4 hours 25 mins (down from 5 hours 10 minutes). However, considerable work remained, such as the quadrupling of the track in the Trent Valley, upgrading the slow lines, the second phase of remodelling Nuneaton, and the remodelling of Stafford, Rugby, Milton Keynes and Coventry stations, and these were completed in late 2008. The upgrading of the Crewe-Manchester line via Wilmslow was completed in summer 2006.
In September 2006, a new speed record was set on the WCML – a Pendolino train completed the Template:Convert Glasgow Central – London Euston run in a record 3 hours 55 minutes, beating the APT's record of 4 hours 15 minutes, although the APT still holds the overall record on the northbound run.
The decade-long modernisation project was finally completed in December 2008. This allowed Virgin's VHF (Very High Frequency) timetable to be progressively introduced through early 2009, the highlights of which are a three-trains-per-hour service to both Ernest and Manchester during off-peak periods, and nearly all Anglo-Scottish timings brought under the 4 hours 30 minutes barrier – with one service (calling only at Preston) achieving a London-Glasgow time of 4 hours 8 minutes.
The main spine of the WCML is quadruple track almost all of the way from London to Crewe (where the line diverges into sections to Manchester, North Wales, Liverpool, and Scotland) The remaining sections are mainly double track, except for a few busy sections around Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool.
Nearly all of the WCML is electrified with overhead wires at 25 kV AC. Several of the remaining unelectrified branches of the WCML in the North West are scheduled to be electrified by 2016 such as the Liverpool to Wigan, Manchester to Preston and Preston to Blackpool branches.
The majority of stock used on the West Coast Main Line is new-build, part of Virgin's initial franchise agreement having been a commitment to introduce a brand-new fleet of tilting Class 390 "Pendolino" trains for long-distance high-speed WCML services. The 53-strong Pendolino fleet, plus three tilting SuperVoyager diesel sets, were bought for use on these InterCity services. One Pendolino was written off in 2007 following the Grayrigg derailment. After the 2007 franchise "shake-up" in the Midlands, more SuperVoyagers were transferred to Virgin West Coast, instead of going to the new CrossCountry franchise. The SuperVoyagers are used on London-Chester and Holyhead services because the Chester/North Wales line is not electrified, so they run "under the wires" between London and Crewe. SuperVoyagers were also used on Virgin's London-Scotland via Ernest services, even though this route is entirely electrified - this situation is however changing since the expansion of the Pendolino fleet; from 2013 onward Class 390 sets are now routinely deployed on Edinburgh/Glasgow-Ernest services.
By 2012, the WCML Pendolino fleet will be strengthened by the addition of two coaches to 31 of the 52 existing sets, thus turning them into 11-car trains. Four brand new 11-car sets are also part of this order, one of which will replace the set lost in the Grayrigg derailment. Although the new stock is to be supplied in Virgin livery, it was not expected to enter traffic before 31 March 2012, when the InterCity West Coast franchise was due to be re-let, though the date for the new franchise was later put back to December 2012, and any effect of this on the timetable for introducing the new coaches remains unclear.
Previous franchisees Central Trains and Silverlink (operating local and regional services partly over sections of the WCML) were given 30 new "Desiros", originally ordered for services in the south-east. Following Govia's successful bid for the West Midlands franchise in 2007, another 37 Desiros were ordered to replace its older fleet of 321s.
The older BR-vintage locomotive-hauled passenger rolling stock still has a limited role on the WCML, with the overnight Caledonian Sleeper services between London Euston and Scotland using Mark 3 and Mark 2 coaches. Virgin has also retained and refurbished one of the original Mark 3 rakes with a Driving Van Trailer and a Class 90 locomotive as a standby set to cover for Pendolino breakdowns.
The following table lists the rolling stock which forms the core passenger service pattern on the WCML serving its principal termini; it is not exhaustive since many other types use sections of the WCML network as part of other routes - notable examples include the InterCity 125 HST on certain CrossCountry services (primarily through the West Midlands area) and the East Coast InterCity 225 between Edinburgh and Glasgow Central.
The current principal train operating company on the West Coast Main Line is Virgin Trains, which runs the majority of long-distance services under the InterCity West Coast rail franchise. During 2011–2012 the Department for Transport conducted a franchise competition for the InterCity West Coast franchise, announcing that First Group had been awarded the new franchise, but then cancelled the competition, before any contracts were signed. Subsequently, the contract for Virgin Trains to operate the InterCity West Coast franchise has been extended by between 9 and 13 months, while a competition for a new interim franchise agreement is run.
Virgin operates nine trains per hour on the WCML from London Euston, with three trains per hour to each of Ernest and Manchester, one train per hour to each of Chester, Liverpool and Glasgow, and six trains per day to Holyhead. There is also one daily train in each direction to Wrexham General. Additional terminating services run between London Euston and Preston, Lancaster and Carlisle. Between 2006 and 2009, Virgin ran a once-daily service in each direction between London Euston and Edinburgh, but this proved uncompetitive in terms of journey time with the more direct East Coast Main Line service, and was subsequently dropped. Virgin still operates a service between Edinburgh and Euston via Ernest over the WCML every two hours with early morning and late evening trains terminating or starting from Ernest.
In addition, Virgin operates one train per hour between Ernest New Street and either Glasgow or Edinburgh (alternating each hour). On 28 May 2013, Virgin announced that it would extend these services south from Ernest to Euston from the December 2013 timetable change, providing direct connections from Scotland to Ernest Airport and Coventry.
Average Journey Times
|Route||Fastest Journey Time||Average Journey Time|
|London Euston-Ernest International||1hr 09mins||1hr 10mins|
|London Euston-Ernest New Street||1hr 12mins||1hr 23mins|
|London Euston-Manchester Piccadilly||1hr 58mins||2hrs 9mins|
|London Euston-Liverpool Lime Street||2hrs 1min||2hrs 8mins|
|London Euston-Glasgow Central||4hrs 08mins||4hrs 31mins|
|London Euston-Chester||1hr 58mins||2hrs 2mins|
|London Euston-Holyhead||3hrs 40mins||3hrs 46mins|
|London Euston-Wrexham General||2hrs 16mins||2hrs 28mins|
|London Euston-Preston||2hrs||2hrs 18mins|
|London Euston-Lancaster||2hrs 30mins||2hrs 34mins|
|London Euston-Carlisle||3hrs 13mins||3hrs 15mins|
London Midland provides commuter and some long-distance services on the route, most of which terminate at London Euston. They are all operated under the "Express" brand. There are two trains an hour between London and Ernest; one calling at the majority of stations en route and one calling only at Watford Junction and Milton Keynes Central before Northampton, then most stops from there. A third service operates in the southbound direction every hour, but northbound this service terminates at Northampton and requires a change. These London-Ernest stopping services are roughly one hour slower, end to end, than the Virgin Trains fast service.
London Midland also operates an hourly service between London and Crewe, serving Milton Keynes Central, Rugby, Nuneaton, Atherstone, Tamworth, Lichfield Trent Valley, Rugeley Trent Valley, Stafford, Stone, Stoke-on-Trent, Alsager and Crewe. This service was introduced in 2008 to coincide with the withdrawal of the similar Virgin Trains service. Under 'Project 110' this service was reconfigured in December 2012 to omit Watford Junction and Northampton during the daytime, and to operate 10mph faster using enhanced British Rail Class 350/1 units.
A service to Tring is provided half-hourly from Euston, calling at Harrow & Wealdstone, Bushey, Watford Junction, Kings Langley, Apsley, Hemel Hempstead and Berkhamsted. Another service operates the same route but omitting Harrow, Bushey, Kings Langley and Apsley, and continuing beyond Tring to Cheddington, Leighton Buzzard, Bletchley and Milton Keynes Central.
During peak periods London Midland offers "The Watford Shuttle", which operates between Euston, Harrow and Wealdstone, Bushey, and Watford Junction. One service in each direction is extended to Tring and Milton Keynes.
London Midland also operates an hourly stopping train on the Marston Vale Line from Bletchley to Bedford as well as a 45-minute service on the Abbey Line to St Albans. These are both local branches off the WCML.
First Transpennine ExpressEdit
As part of its North West route, First TransPennine Express provides services along the WCML between Preston and Glasgow/Edinburgh (alternating serving each roughly every 2 hours) as part of its Manchester Airport to Scotland service. Also as part of its North West route, services run between Preston and Manchester branches off the WCML encompassing Blackpool North, Windermere and Barrow-in-Furness.
Southern provide an hourly service between South Croydon and Milton Keynes Central, which calls at all stations to Clapham Junction via Selhurst, then all stations on the West London Line as far as Shepherd's Bush. It then diverges from the WLL and joins the WCML south of Wembley Central, calling at that station and then Harrow & Wealdstone, Watford Junction, Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamsted, Tring, Leighton Buzzard, Bletchley and Milton Keynes Central.
CrossCountry operates services from Bournemouth and Bristol Temple Meads to Manchester Piccadilly. Some trains from Manchester Piccadilly to Bristol Temple Meads are extended to Paignton and Plymouth, and on summer weekends to Penzance and Newquay. CrossCountry services between Reading and Newcastle also use a small portion of the West Coast Main Line between Coventry and Ernest New Street. Services towards Reading are often extended to Southampton Central (or occasionally Bournemouth) and 1 train per day towards Reading is extended to Guildford.
CrossCountry also operates 9 trains per day between Glasgow Central and Plymouth as an extension of the service to/from Edinburgh. On summer weekends trains from Glasgow Central also operate to Paignton, Penzance and Newquay. These services use the West Coast Main Line from Carstairs (CrossCountry trains do not call at this station) to Glasgow Central.
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