Plans for a world leading rail testing centre in South West Wales have progressed further, with the submission of an Outline Business Case as well as local approval for the land.
The Welsh Government has now called on the UK Government to “act at speed to play its part” in the delivery of the project.
On 27th and 28th July Powys County Council and Neath Port Talbot approved consent for the earthworks for the Global Centre of Rail Excellence, to be built at the mothballed opencast mine at Nant Helen and the nearby coal washery site at Onllwyn.
It is another step forward for the project after, earlier this month, the Welsh Government submitted the Outline Business Case for the Centre to the UK Government. The document set out the delivery programme and next steps.
Ken Skates, Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, commented:
“This project goes hand in hand with improving the efficiency, performance and capacity of our railways. It has been developed following a clear need identified by the rail industry.
“There will also be important benefits for the communities that surround the planned facility. Jobs will be brought to the area and the project can be an important part of the long-term economic recovery from Covid-19.
“This has been a positive month for the project and the initial local approval is a positive step. Following this I now hope the UK Government will act at speed to play its part in delivering something that will benefit both Wales and the United Kingdom.”
In a first for the UK rail industry, London North Eastern Railway (LNER) will begin trials of an ‘at-seat’ catering offer onboard trains this August. The service will enable customers to order and pay for food and drinks from their phone in the comfort of their own seat, without having to visit the onboard cafe bar.
The digital in-seat app ‘Let’s Eat – At Your Seat’ will be available to customers in both Standard and First Class.
The service will also provide a layer of confidence and reassurance to customers who are looking to stay seated for the duration of their journey.
Let’s Eat – At Your Seat will offer customers on LNER trains a more enhanced, personalised customer service, with the added benefit of being more convenient for those who do not wish to leave their seat and possessions unattended. The ‘at-seat’ service also addresses the 40 per cent* of UK consumers who want to access digital ordering and payment technology to minimise physical contact and support social distancing measures.
Richard Judge, Head of Catering at LNER said: “We are always looking for new ways to provide excellence in our customer experience onboard and this new ‘at-seat’ service will allow us to extend our food and drink offer to customers from the comfort of their own seat
“Customers in both standard and first class will be able to browse the menu in their own time and order at their own convenience, enhancing their onboard experience and improving their journey with us.”
Let’s Eat – At Your Seat was developed by QikServe, and is the first project to come out of the LNER FutureLabs accelerator programme, which is fast tracking the development of digital projects to improve customer journeys in the rail industry.
Dan Rodgers, Founder and President at QikServe said: “As part of LNER’s FutureLabs Programme, we’re delighted to be the first to deliver Let’s Eat – At Your Seat for a personalised food and drinks offering on LNER train services.
“People are accustomed to ordering food and drinks whenever they want on their phone, so why not on a train too? It has been a privilege working with the team at LNER to create technology that puts the customer at the heart of their service by allowing them to order refreshments when they want.”
With the UK Government advising food retailers to provide contactless solutions to support the economy, Let’s Eat – At Your Seat will allow customers to access the ordering platform through a QR code scan, without the need to download another app.
Developed for use on LNER trains, the Standard Class menu offers a wide range of drinks, snacks, sandwiches and breakfast items. The First Class menu offers extra meals including LNER breakfasts, hot meals and an extended drinks service.
The trial will commence in August, with plans to roll out the offering across the fleet later in 2020.
Today, South Western Railway ran a special ‘fact-finding’ train, to investigate the potential re-opening of the Fawley branch line in Hampshire, after more than 50 years since regular passenger services ceased.
The special service follows a successful submission to the Department for Transport’s ‘Restoring your Railway Fund’ by Hampshire County Council. This funding will allow Hampshire County Council to carry out a feasibility study into reopening the line for passenger services once more.
The service became possible through cooperation between South Western Railway and Network Rail, who had to cut back undergrowth, test condition of the track, and prepare the train crew.
Boarding the train was Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris; Network Rail Chair, Sir Peter Hendy; and representatives from Hampshire County Council and Southampton City Council.
Also joining the train was Nick Farthing, Chair of Three Rivers Community Rail Partnership, who have long campaigned for the opening of the line.
Whilst there is still work to be done before passenger services can resume, the national focus in expanding the rail network by utilising disused lines, provides hope that a return of services for this part of Hampshire maybe a step-closer to reality, helping to reconnect communities and promote public transport.
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “It is almost precisely 95 years since the line between Southampton and Fawley opened. Yet, due to the Beeching cuts, the last time passengers were able to travel this line England were lifting the Jules Rimet.
“While we can’t guarantee sporting supremacy again, we’ve been absolutely clear that we are determined to reconnect communities and level up infrastructure across the country. Taking steps towards restoring passenger journeys on lines like this demonstrates that commitment.
“The progress towards developing a business case for this restoration is testament to the energy and enthusiasm of local campaigners, and I share the passion they and other communities have to reopen and restore local lines.”
Mark Hopwood, Managing Director of South Western Railway said: “Branch lines are vital to connect local communities, with many now out of use. Exploring the possibility of reopening disused lines for rail passengers is vital for us to reconnect our communities again.”
Network Rail Chair Sir Peter Hendy said: “Railways have a huge role to play in building environmentally-sustainable economic and social development and places like Marchwood, where the railway is still in place, are perfect examples of where we can help local communities grow. It’s great to see a passenger train down this line again and this has been a really useful event for our partners to understand what we might have to do to bring trains back permanently.”
Councillor Rob Humby, Deputy Leader of Hampshire County Council and Executive Member for Economy, Transport and Environment, said: “Hampshire County Council was very pleased that our bid to the Department for Transport’s restoring Your railways Fund was successful and we now look forward to working with the Department for Transport, Network Rail and stakeholders to review the evidence and undertake a business case for re-introducing passenger rail services on the Waterside line.”
The second phase of multi-million-pound work to secure land beside the West Coast main line in Stoke-on-Trent starts next month to make journeys for passengers and freight more reliable.
The £4m Railway Upgrade Plan investment will stop a residential street from slowly edging into a railway cutting threatening the safety of the railway below.
Last year, Network Rail engineers carried out emergency repairs to West Parade in Mount Pleasant after cracks had appeared on the road surface.
Now, steel rods, known as soil nails, will be drilled into the railway bank to secure the land from further movement.
Emma Gray, scheme project manager for Network Rail, said: “We’re looking forward to going back to West Parade in Stoke-on-Trent to finish off the important work to secure the road for residents and also protect the West Coast main line for passengers.
“While we’ve planned the Railway Upgrade Plan work to keep trains running and passengers moving as much as possible, the work does require some road and railway closures. I’d urge passengers to check National Rail Enquiries before they travel, and I’d like to thank passengers and residents for their patience in advance.”
During the weekends of 12-13, 19-20 and 26-27 September, some trains will be diverted and replacement buses will be in operation between:
To allow enough room for the work to be carried out safely, a half road closure of West Parade will be needed from 7 September until 4 December 2020.
Gus Dunster, executive director of operations at Avanti West Coast, said: “As Network Rail deliver the next phase of their Railway Upgrade Plan, there will be alterations to our weekend services to and from Stoke-on-Trent. We are working closely with Network Rail as they carry out these vital works on the West Coast main line to minimise the impact to journeys during this time and strongly recommend you make a reservation, plan your journey in advance and check before you travel.”
John Robson, regional director for CrossCountry, said: “We know weekend engineering work can be an inconvenience, and have worked closely with Network Rail to minimise the impact and complete this in the shortest time possible. We are sorry if any of our customers’ journeys are affected. However, when complete this will ensure the continued safe and reliable operation of our services on this line for many years to come.”
Network Rail has written to local people and is working closely with Stoke-on-Trent City Council to minimise the disruption to all road users and residents.
The vital stretch of railway which connects Devon and Cornwall with the rest of the country is now better protected from rising sea levels and extreme weather as Network Rail has built the first section of the new sea wall in Dawlish.
It means the beach and promenade is now open (28 July) with Network Rail adding finishing touches to the surface of the footpath, before returning later in the year to finish fencing, lighting and seating after delays caused by coronavirus.
The new bigger sea wall runs for 360 metres along Marine Parade, giving the iconic stretch of railway line immediate greater resilience against waves that flood the track, leading to potential closures and delays.
Network Rail has faced delays of crucial materials for the new sea wall throughout the pandemic, but teams of engineers worked around the clock in recent weeks, within Government guidelines, to enable the reopening of the beach and promenade in time for the peak tourism season.
The footbridge that connects Marine Parade to Boat Cove is also open but delays mean engineers will continue to work 24 hours a day for three weeks during the summer to install granite paving at Boat Cove and the viewing point halfway along the wall. Permanent fencing will then be fitted between the railway and the promenade. Then, following the summer engineers will install lighting and seating.
Building of the new sea wall began in May 2019 following the Government’s commitment to spend £80m on a new sea wall stretching all the way from Coastguards breakwater to Boat Cove, following the storms of 2014 which closed the line for eight weeks.
The design, with a curved top to deflect the waves, follows years of detailed studies, designs and joint working between world-leading marine, coastal and railway engineering experts.
Construction has taken place around the tides to deliver the upgrade, which is vital, not just for Dawlish but for the whole of the south west peninsula as the railway connects communities in 50 towns and cities with the rest of the UK.
Network Rail has also submitted plans for the second section of the wall – a 415 metre stretch between Coastguards and Colonnade breakwaters – to Teignbridge District Council. Work is expected to start later this year if the proposals are approved. The plans include a new, high-level promenade and an accessible footbridge with lifts for Dawlish station.
During the building of the sea wall at Marine Parade, Network Rail has spent nearly £5million on local labour, materials and accommodation; work on the remaining section would give a similar boost to the local economy.
Mike Gallop, Network Rail Western route director said: “We’d like to thank the residents of Dawlish and visitors to the town for their patience during the main construction work.
“There is more to do before this section of the project is completely finished. We faced delays in our supply chain due to Coronavirus and therefore will need to return to complete the paving, fencing, lighting and seating – but we are pleased that we’ve been able to reopen the beach, promenade and footbridge for summer visitors.
“The new sea wall is already doing its job by returning waves to the sea and reducing the amount of water and spray reaching the tracks. It will help to protect the town and the railway for the next 100 years.
“We’ll continue to keep the community informed of our progress and our proposals for the remaining section of the new wall.”
Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “It is fantastic to see this vital project making so much progress despite the challenges it has faced due to Covid-19, and this is testament to the hard work and dedication of all the teams involved.
“We are committed to improving the resilience of this route, which is crucial for connecting communities across the south west and boosting economic growth in the region. I look forward to seeing this important work completed later this year.”
Chair of Peninsula Rail Task Force, Cllr Andrea Davis said: “The PRTF welcomes the fantastic progress that has been made along the Marine Parade, as well as the new sea wall, at Dawlish.”
The project has faced substantial challenges in recent months, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it is a credit to Network Rail and all those involved that the project has been able to progress to this stage. Ensuring that this crucial link between the South West and the wider UK remains open, is vital to the economic success of the region.
“There is still a lot more work to be done to secure the future resilience of our rail network and the PRTF will continue its work with the Government to build upon their efforts to level up the region, delivering a rail infrastructure fit for the future.“
The action plan is testimony to the Scottish Government’s determination to deliver on its Programme for Government (PfG) commitment to decarbonise passenger rail services and continue to reduce carbon emissions.
Through its contribution to decarbonising wider transport, and through modal shift to rail, this action plan supports the aims of the National Transport Strategy, and wider Scottish Government policy. It also seeks to remove diesel passenger trains from Scottish services, and secure significant benefits for rail freight over the next 15-25 years.
Preparatory work for the first electrification projects, on the East Kilbride and Barrhead lines, is already underway, with Anniesland/Maryhill and Borders routes also being progressed. Early work has also begun to assess how inter-city routes can be tackled to inform delivery programmes and funding decisions.
Mr Matheson said:
“The current covid-19 pandemic has been a challenging and difficult time across the globe. As we continue transition through the Scottish Government’s Routemap to Recovery it is clear we need to do all we can to boost the economy through green initiatives.
“While our Programme for Government commitment to publish our plans for decarbonising Scotland’s railways was rightly paused, I am now pleased we can share them. This is particularly important for the rail industry and its supply chain who are keen to see projects progress.
“Building on our recent strong track record of delivering electrification projects we have set out ambitious but achievable plans to decarbonise our rail passenger services by 2035, five years ahead of the UK target.”
Alex Hynes, Managing Director of Scotland’s Railway, said:
“Delivering on the Scottish Government’s bold and ambitious Rail Decarbonisation Action Plan is a top priority for Scotland’s Railway. We’re continually working to deliver a cleaner, greener railway for Scotland.
“Although rail is already a low-carbon mode of transport, we are committed to reducing our environmental impact ever further.
“The massive projects that have been delivered so far – the electrification of the Central Belt, new electric trains – mean more seats and faster journeys for our customers, as well as a rail service that is better for our environment. This plan will deliver even more for our passengers in the decades to come.
“It connects people with jobs, business with customers, tourists with destinations, and it’s delivering a railway of which we can be truly proud.”
David Clarke, Technical Director of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said:
“The Plan published today is very welcome and is an important step in the journey towards decarbonising the passenger railway in Scotland by 2035. The Plan sets out a clear focus on decarbonising the network through a rolling programme of electrification and investment in low carbon self-powered rolling stock, both of which the rail industry stands ready to deliver.
“We have also greatly valued the engagement Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government have had with the rail supply community in developing this strategy. The sector looks forward to working together to deliver a green railway network, for the benefit of Scottish passengers, freight users and the wider economy.”
Malcolm Brown, Chair, Rail Industry Decarbonisation Taskforce
“Decarbonisation of the UK economy is a challenge which requires coordinated planning and commitment from all sectors, including transport and specifically the rail sector. Last year, following extensive consultation, the Rail Industry Decarbonisation Taskforce’s recommendations as to how the rail industry would best be able to contribute to the national net zero emissions target were welcomed by the Minister for Rail. I am delighted to see that Transport Scotland’s rail decarbonisation plan builds on these recommendations and, indeed, adapts them to Scotland’s railway and wider circumstances, where there is the opportunity and the need to do so. We look forward to continued close cooperation throughout the rail industry to support rail decarbonisation throughout Great Britain.”
The plan looks to achieve its aims through further electrification and, for some routes, through the use of battery electric-powered trains and to work with developers of hydrogen fuel cell powertrains to accelerate their development and deployment in Scotland which is vital for the diversification of the economy here.
Transport Scotland has challenged the rail industry to work in partnership with them on this plan, providing real opportunity to drive innovation, create skilled and sustained employment, and contribute to inclusive and green economic growth.
Experts from Network Rail are helping to get Wicksteed Park’s famous railway ready for passengers once again – after volunteering to do essential track repair and maintenance work for free.
Around 20 volunteers from the arms length government body, which is the owner and infrastructure manager of most of the country’s railway network, will begin work this week.
It is hoped that it will be completed within a few days so that passengers can be taken around the park once more.
The famous toot of the Wicksteed Park trains has been missing due to the Covid-19 lockdown and the resulting decision to put Wicksteed Park Ltd, which ran the park, into administration.
The park is owned by Wicksteed Charitable Trust, which has funded a new much-streamlined company, Wicksteed Trading Ltd, which is working towards a full re-opening of its attractions next spring.
Ben Darling, Network Rail’s Distribution & Plant Section Manager for the East Midlands route, who lives in Kettering, answered the Trust’s call for volunteers to help. Network Rail encourages workers to take volunteer leave, so that they can spend time supporting charities and other organisations.
Ben and his wife Gemma will be among the volunteers helping with work on the track, which includes lifting a section and repairs to one of the curves, which are required due to the length of time the track has been out of use.
Ben said: “As a local resident, the Wicksteed Park railway project means a lot to me and I’d like to thank everyone with their help so far.
“The park, and its famous train, which takes visitors around the lake and woodlands, is a big part of the community in Kettering.
“I’m proud of my colleagues at Network Rail for helping to support the Wicksteed Charitable Trust. We are pleased to be using our experience on the railway to repair this track and get the train running again this summer.”
Lee Scragg, MD of Wicksteed Park, said: “Over the last few weeks we have been incredibly grateful for all the donations and offers of help that the park has received as we begin the process of rebuilding for the future.
“As we are a much-streamlined company with very restricted income at the moment, much of what has been achieved would have been impossible without the help of volunteers.
“We are incredibly grateful to Ben and his team, as without them we would not have been able to complete this work and get the trains which people love so much up and running again so quickly.”
West Coast Railways first charter since the enforced closure due to Covid-19 is upon us, and brings steam back to our ever popular York ROC Cameras.
The Scarborough Spa Express is a firm favourite with our viewer as we get some fantastic views of steam at the historic York station, as well as the bonus of seeing the locomotive being turned on the turntable after her days work.
Thursday 30th July is the date for your diary as we see West Coast Railways return to the rails, passing a number of our cameras throughout the round trip from Carnforth-Scarborough-Carnforth, those all important camera pass times can be found below….
1Z24 Carnforth to Scarborough (Diesel hauled Carnforth to York)