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The Future of British Rail

19 Jul

The landscape of British rail is constantly changing and growing in order to meet the demands of higher passenger numbers and to incorporate ever-developing rail technology in order to produce a more efficient service. 

This year, the number of train journeys made with franchised train operators reached its highest ever at 1.69 billion – a 2% rise from the previous year. The pressure on rail providers to increase customer capacity and meet service expectations is consistently growing. Therefore, the infrastructure must be expanded. As an additional complication for providers, there is always controversy surrounding rail prices, such as the news story this morning revealing that rail prices are rising at double the rate of salaries. This is another crucial factor which British Rail must consider when investing in future rail projects.  

Here, I will reflect on the major rail projects taking place now, and those planned for the future, and discuss predictions of what the landscape of British rail will look like in years to come. 

Elizabeth Line

It’s only right I begin with the Elizabeth Line (previously known as Crossrail 1) as it is the most imminent. With the first service between Liverpool Street and Shenfield scheduled for May next year, we’re not going to have to wait long to take our first direct journey on this highly anticipated line. The new route will run over 100km of track from Reading to Essex and is predicted to bring an extra 1.5 million people within 45 minutes of central London, providing better links for business, employment and leisure. If all goes to plan, 200 million passengers should travel on the service each year, easing some of the pressure currently on the Underground service. It certainly comes at a hefty cost - £14.8bn – but the economic benefit to the UK following the project is expected to be much higher - £42bn. 

As well as the stations and track, large developments are planned for the areas surrounding key stations. Thanks to Crossrail, we’ll see the construction of 57,000 new homes and 3.25 million m2 of commercial space. 

Thameslink Upgrade

Also fairly imminent is the completion of the upgrade of London’s Thameslink service. From 2013, major track and station work has been underway on Thameslink as Transport for London aims to increase the capacity and frequency of the facility. Three key stations (Farringdon, London Bridge and Blackfriars) as well as Borough Viaduct have undergone major development to allow for additional connections between the Thameslink and other services such as Crossrail. 

From 2018, a new controls system will be introduced on Thameslink trains: European Train Control System (ETCS). ETCS is an automatic control system that determines the speed and distance of the train. When within the correct boundaries the system permits the driver to control the train, however should it exceed the set limits, the system will intervene and bring the train back to the speed and distance it should be. The program allows for a safer and more frequent service: 14 trains per hour, or one every 2.5 minutes.  

High Speed 2

In 10 years’ time we’re expecting the first phase of HS2 to be completed. This line from London to Birmingham will allow us to travel at speeds of up to 400 km/h with a total journey time of 49 minutes - 35 minutes quicker than the current average journey time. Phase 2 of the project, linking London to Manchester and Leeds, won’t be complete until 2032.
As with any major infrastructure development, there are many pros and cons of phase 1 of HS2. 

Some of the predicted benefits include:
  • The HS2 trains will be the fastest in Europe
  • The network is expected to generate economic benefits to the tune of £59 billion      
  • It will provide 40,000 jobs in phase 1 alone
  • It will cut the UK’s carbon footprint. An estimated 4.5million air trips and 9 million road trips will shift to rail
  • Covering a total length of 330 miles, it will connect the North and South of the UK, improving business and leisure
Now to the inevitable drawbacks of HS2:
  • Along the route from London to Birmingham, at least 14 Grade II Listed buildings will be affected
  • A train which travels at 400km/h uses 3 times as much power as the average 200km/h train
  • All routes lead to or from London, so experts warn that the predicted economic benefit will predominately be felt here 
  • The total amount of concrete used along the route equates to the entire surface area of Manchester
  • The total cost of HS2 is currently estimated at £36.4 billion (nearly £4 billion more than it was initially)
With Crossrail still under construction and HS2 not reaching completion until 2032, the rail industry will most certainly be kept busy for the next few decades. It’s an exciting time for rail enthusiasts, construction workers and passengers alike, as we eagerly anticipate quicker, more frequent and more spacious services across the UK.

Are you a rail professional looking for opportunities within the UK or overseas? Check out all the positions we’re currently recruiting for, or email the technical team at technical@cavendishprofessionals.com, who will always be happy to assist.  
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