DfT Press release – Biggest ever public investment in Britain’s rail network will level up more places, more quickly

  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will unveil plans to overhaul and modernise rail connections, with passengers seeing benefits ten years sooner than under previous plans
  • At £96bn, the biggest ever public investment in the rail network will transform journeys to and between the East and West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West
  • Ambitious plan focuses on local services as well as high-speed links, improving connections for everyone, not just those travelling between biggest cities

Faster train journeys will be delivered up to ten years sooner under the Government’s new Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), with biggest ever £96bn investment in the rail network unveiled today (Thursday 18 November).

From London and across the Pennines, the IRP delivers journey times which are the same as, similar to or faster than the original HS2 and Leeds-Manchester proposals, while doubling or trebling capacity and ensuring passengers and consumers benefit from tangible changes more quickly.

The new plan – full details of which will be published on Thursday – will not only strengthen connections between major cities in the North and Midlands, but improve shorter-distance routes which people depend on every day, with an emphasis on increasing capacity and more reliable services.  

With £360m allocated for London-style contactless ticketing across commuter rail networks, the IRP is designed to improve not just rail links but to deliver price-capped integrated ticketing with local buses and trams – simplifying and streamlining thousands of daily journeys across the Midlands and the North.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“If we are to see levelling up in action now, we must rapidly transform the services that matter to people most.

“That’s why the Integrated Rail Plan will be the biggest transport investment programme in a century, delivering meaningful transport connections for more passengers across the country, more quickly – with both high-speed journeys and better local services, it will ensure no town or city is left behind.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

“Throughout the pandemic, we stood by our railway and invested billions to keep the country moving, and we are about to unleash a £96 billion programme of investment that will transform a Victorian network into one befitting a modern country.

“The Integrated Rail Plan is designed to deliver for everyone, much sooner than under previous plans for rail schemes drawn up a decade ago, which no longer fit the way we travel today.

“Our plan will deliver a network that is fit for passengers today and for future generations – a network that works for every community and every passenger, right across the UK.”

The IRP was initiated after the Oakervee Review recommended an assessment of major transport schemes, like HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, to produce a plan that would truly deliver for the North and the Midlands. This included looking at how to increase capacity and have more frequent services in a way that presented value for money for the taxpayer. 

The IRP was drawn up after it became clear that the full HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail schemes as originally proposed would not enter service until the early to mid-2040s. It is framed by the Government’s commitment to deliver on its levelling up agenda by transforming connectivity for people right across the country and unlocking productivity in the North and the Midlands.

Railway Restored: regular trains to run on Dartmoor Line for first time in 50 years

  • First passenger train on the first Restoring Your Railway reopening will run on Wednesday 17 November, ahead of public services resuming on Saturday 20 November  
  • Restored in just 9 months, and delivered £10m under budget, transforming a mothballed former freight railway to regular services.
  • Reopening is the first of the Government’s Restoring Your Railway schemes to return to service, fulfilling a manifesto commitment. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will today dispatch the first passenger train to run on the Dartmoor Line for over 50 years, as the line once again becomes part of the UK rail network for passengers.

This has been made possible thanks to over £40 million of Government investment through the Restoring Your Railway programme.

The line links Okehampton to Exeter and will officially reopen to the public for regular year-round, all-week passenger services on 20 November. 

The first train runs this Wednesday, travelling from Okehampton, and will carry local school children, campaigners, railway staff, and supporters who all helped make the project happen. 

The Department for Transport, Network Rail and Great Western Railway (GWR) have worked together to reopen this line ahead of time and under budget. Benefitting from the application of Rail Project SPEED approaches, the Dartmoor Line has been transformed from a mothballed former freight railway with occasional Summer Sunday services to a full seven days per week passenger operation in a mere 9 months since confirmation of funding, coming in more than £10m under budget.  

A service will run every 2 hours, with plans to expand to an hourly service in 2022. This will benefit students heading to colleges in Exeter as well as tourists travelling towards Dartmoor, easing congestion on local roads and helping boost local economies,

Since 1997, the line has only been open during some Sundays in Summer after regular services were withdrawn in 1972. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: 

“Improving transport links is essential to levelling up and spreading opportunity across the country, which is why we are driving forward our pledge to reverse the Beeching cuts in Devon today.

“As we reopen the Dartmoor line, we are rightly reconnecting communities, giving passengers the chance to choose rail over the road and travel from Exeter to Okehampton on greener, cleaner modes of transport.”  

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

“By restoring the Dartmoor Line we are undoing 50 years of damage, reconnecting a community and creating new opportunities for jobs, tourism, education and recreation.

“We have made it our mission to reverse cuts made in the Beeching era of the 1960s. The passion, nostalgia and enthusiasm for that ambition is clear right across the country.

“People love their railways, and rightly miss them when they’re gone. Today – ahead of time, and under budget – we’ve made a decisive step in fixing that, cutting the ribbon on a line and making a real difference to people’s lives.”

The Restoring Your Railway fund was launched in January 2020 to reinstate axed local services and restore closed stations, many of which were cut following Dr Beeching’s report on ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ in 1963.

The fund is focused on delivering schemes that can level up the country,  reconnect cut-off communities,  improve access to jobs, homes and education and boost opportunity across the country.

The Department and its partners have accelerated the reopening of the railway, delivering passenger services in only 9 months from the original funding being approved to entry into service, and saving money at the same time. As the Government continues its overhaul of the railways following the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail, more lines and stations will be re-opened. 

To make the restoration possible, Network Rail’s team of engineers worked tirelessly to deliver a huge programme of work to physically reopen the line in just 9 months, including laying 11 miles of new track and installing 24,000 concrete sleepers and 29,000 tonnes of ballast in a record-breaking 20-day period.

Repairs have also been made to 21 structures along the route including 4 bridges. Other infrastructure work has included level crossing improvements and the installation of railway communications equipment.  Vegetation clearance, earth and drainage works and fencing have also been completed and further infrastructure work will continue to take place to increase the line speed to enable an hourly service in 2022. 

Michelle Handforth, Network Rail’s Wales & Western regional managing director, said: 

“Today marks a significant milestone for the railway and the local community and I am delighted to have been able to welcome the Secretary of State to Okehampton to mark this special occasion.

“I am so proud of our engineers whose hard work and dedication has resulted in this line reopening ahead of schedule and today enable the Secretary of State, campaigners and supporters of the Dartmoor Line to enjoy a first passenger journey.

“I would like to thank the local community, our partners and everyone who has supported us in reopening this railway line and I am excited to think that this Saturday, regular passenger services will resume for the first time in nearly 50 years.”

Great Western Railway identified suitable rolling stock and developed a robust timetable with franchise funding ahead of funding being agreed for the infrastructure elements of the project. The project has also hugely benefitted from strong local support spearheaded by Devon County Council, without which it would have taken far longer to reach the point where regular year-round services can be restored after almost 50 years. 

Great Western Railway, Dartline Coaches and Devon County Council have also made sure that local transport is all coordinated, ensuring easy bus and train connections to the rest of Britain are easily accessible from the Dartmoor Line. 

More work will be carried out over the winter including on the station buildings to enable the restoration of the café and other facilities. 

Mark Hopwood, GWR Managing Director, said: 

“This has been a key aspiration for the community and the rail industry for some time and today is a significant day for everyone who has been involved. I am delighted to have been able to invite the Secretary of State, and leading community campaigners, to enjoy a first passenger journey on this restored line.

“The support and advocacy of the local campaigners over the years has helped deliver a fantastic new service for customers, which we hope will grow from strength to strength.”

£360m investment to transform rail ticketing across the country

  • £360m invested to radically reform and overhaul rail passengers’ experience of fares, ticketing and retailing
  • Contactless tap-in and tap-out ticketing to be at more than 700 stations across the country outside London and the South East with 400 stations across the North set to benefit
  • Investment marks first stage of plan to roll out convenient and modern digital ticketing across the whole rail network, improving thousands of daily commutes and simplifying journeys

£360 million will be invested to radically reform and improve passengers’ experience of fares, ticketing, and retailing on the railways. 

This will see contactless tap-in and tap-out ticketing at more than 700 stations across the country outside London and the South East, benefitting more than 400 stations across the North.

Over the next three years, the Government will roll out contactless pay-as-you-go ticketing across the commuter networks of the Midlands and North – introducing London-style price caps and greater integration with local bus and tram networks.

This is just the first stage of the Government’s commitment to roll out convenient and modern digital ticketing across the whole rail network, improving thousands of daily commutes, simplifying journeys and ensuring passengers are charged the best price.

It will also help to create a rail network which will not only delivers the types of journeys that create jobs, supports businesses and unlocks housing opportunities, but will level up the Midlands and the North to become an economic powerbase to rival London and the South-East.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

“Passengers across the North and Midlands have waited far too long to see the same fast, easy and convenient ticketing as those in London. We’re determined to put that right.

“Today’s investment is just the first phase of our efforts to overhaul our rail network, focused on improving journeys for passengers right across the country.”

This comes ahead of the publication of the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), and once the full programme is delivered, cities across the North of England will have access to a contactless ticketing scheme.

The IRP will shortly set out how the government intends to transform rail across the North and Midlands, while delivering benefits for passengers far sooner than under previous plans.

‘Box structure’ flyover saves £70m and six months for East West Rail

Engineers have saved £70m of taxpayers’ money by using creative new methods to build a railway flyover as part of the East West Rail project.

Network Rail and the East West Rail Alliance are restoring the Oxford-to-Cambridge line by removing and replacing a flyover which crosses the busy West Coast main line at Bletchley – all while keeping trains and passengers moving safely.

Bletchley flyover structure installed May 2021

The new structure, on the line between Bicester and Bletchley, is being built to last 120 years with minimal future maintenance required.

Instead of replacing the old flyover like-for-like – which would involve closing the West Coast main line below to build five supporting columns in between the tracks – East West Rail project engineers have used modern methods of construction to build a protective ‘box structure.’

It acts very much like a rectangular railway tunnel, removing the need for separate supporting columns and providing a platform for the flyover to sit on.

Aerial shot showing precast concrete girders in place for Bletchley flyover rebuild – credit Network Rail Air Operations

This means the West Coast main line – which is one of the busiest mixed-use passenger and freight railway routes in Europe – doesn’t have to be closed during the flyover replacement taking place above as the box structure provides a protective, physical barrier.

This keeps both passenger and freight trains safe below and the workforce safe above.

Mark Cuzner, East West Rail Alliance project director, said: “By working smarter we’ve been able to speed-up the project by around six months. At the start of the project, we built a protective wall next to the West Coast main line so we could safely build the box structure during the day when the railway is open, instead of working piecemeal at night-time when the railway is closed.

“Most of the components for both the box structure, and the flyover, arrived pre-built and were simply assembled on site, like a model kit or set of Duplo bricks. The simplicity of construction meant we could safely reduce the workforce onsite by 60%, cut the previously-forecast cost by £70m and get the job done six months quicker than planned.”

Simon Blanchflower CBE,  East West Rail Company chief executive officer, said: “The transformation of the iconic Bletchley flyover has really brought the East West Rail project to life and brings communities from Oxford to Cambridge ever closer to a new, sustainable transport link across the region”

Key figures from this innovative construction technique include:

  • £70m saved by reducing the need to close the railway
  • Modern methods of construction speeds-up project by six months
  • 70% of components arrived pre-built and were simply assembled on site
  • Simplicity of construction meant onsite workforce could be reduced by 60%
  • New flyover will last 120 years (previous one lasted only 60 years)

In the coming months track will start to be laid over the new structure.

It replaces a 1960s-built concrete railway flyover which wasn’t suitable to carry the new East West railway.

The huge demolition project on the old structure took place throughout 2020 and involved some of the UK’s largest cranes.

For more information on the East West Rail project visit: www.networkrail.co.uk/east-west-rail/ 

Network Rail urges lorry drivers to ‘Wise Up, Size Up’ as Suffolk bridge tops list of Britain’s most bashed bridges

More than 1,600 bridges were hit over the year, with the most bashed – Coddenham Road bridge in Suffolk – struck 19 times and one of three most hit in the top ten in the Anglia region.

Stuntney Road bridge Anglia bridge strike
  • Despite fewer trains and passengers on the rail network due to the Covid-19 pandemic, bridge strikes still cost Network Rail more than £5.5 million in delay and cancellation fees in 2020/21
  • In anticipation of a spike in incidents over Black Friday and the Christmas period, and an influx of newly qualified lorry drivers on Britain’s roads, ‘Wise Up, Size Up’ campaign is being rolled out reminding lorry drivers to check the height of their vehicles and plan their route in advance to avoid low bridges

Network Rail has revealed the most-struck railway bridges in the country as it relaunches its ‘Wise Up, Size Up’ campaign, reminding lorry drivers and haulage operators to take better care by knowing the height of their vehicles and choosing suitable routes before they head out on journeys.

The warning comes ahead of the annual Black Friday and Christmas shopping rush – traditionally a peak period for bridge strikes – and as more newly qualified lorry drivers are expected on Britain’s roads this year to meet supply chain demands and fill the estimated 100,000 driver shortfall.* 

The Coddenham Road bridge on the B1078 has the unflattering title of the most bashed bridge in Britain. Located in Needham Market, Suffolk, the bridge was struck 19 times last year, amounting to £41,331 in unnecessary train delay and cancellation costs. The other “big hitters” on the list in the Anglia region include Stuntney Road in Ely (4), Ipswich Road bridge in Mannningtree (8) and Abbey Farm in Thetford (20).

Ellie Burrows, Network Rail’s route director for Anglia, said: “Bridge strikes cause unnecessary delays, costs and safety issues for road and rail users. To compound matters, they drain public funds which should be used on upgrading and improving our network. In recent years we’ve done a lot of work with partners across the industry to tackle this problem and whilst it’s encouraging to see numbers on the decline, there’s a lot more work to be done.

“With Black Friday and Christmas fast approaching, we urge professional operators and drivers to properly plan their routes, know the height of their vehicles and look out for road signs warning of oncoming bridges. Those who don’t are at risk of losing their driver’s and operator’s licences, and Network Rail looks to recover the entire repair and delay costs from the driver’s employer.”  

Over the next four weeks, reminders to ‘Wise Up, Size Up’ will feature on posters at motorway service stations across Britain, urging drivers to check the size of their vehicles and their routes before setting off.

Network Rail’s 4E’s initiative – education, engineering, enablement and enforcement – aims to ensure haulage companies and their drivers are provided with the knowledge and tools they need to avoid striking bridges. As part of this ongoing initiative, Network Rail has a team of bridge strike ‘champions’ covering each route across Britain, who raise awareness of the issue by visiting haulage companies and lead in managing bridge strike risk locally.  

Most struck railway bridges in Britain 2020/21:

  1. Coddenham Road Needham Market, Suffolk19 strikes
  2. St John’s Street Lichfield, Staffordshire 18 strikes
  3. Harlaxton Road Grantham, Lincolnshire16 strikes
  4. Stuntney Road Ely, Cambridgeshire 15 strikes
  5. Bromford Road Dudley, West Midlands 13 strikes
  6. Watling Street Hinckley, Leicestershire 11 strikes
  7. Warminster Road Wilton, Wiltshire 11 strikes
  8. Ipswich Road Manningtree, Essex 10 strikes
  9. Thames Street Staines-upon-Thames, Surrey, 10 strikes
  10. Lower Downs Road Wimbledon, London, 10 strikes

Salisbury railway to reopen fully from Tuesday, 16 November

Network Rail, South Western Railway and Great Western Railway joint statement:

Following last week’s accident, Network Rail, South Western Railway and Great Western Railway today announce that trains through Salisbury will begin running again on Tuesday, 16 November.

The rail industry has been working together to clear the line and make it safe to run trains again, with repair works set to be complete by Monday. Following two weeks of the line being closed, Network Rail will spend a full day using its leaf-busting Rail Head Treatment Trains to jet wash the tracks free of any debris or leaf mulch. A series of test trains will also run on the new infrastructure to check it is operating correctly before passenger services begin on Tuesday morning.

Network Rail’s route director for Wessex, Mark Killick, said: “I really appreciate how patient everyone has been with us over the past week and a half, from customers who have had their journeys disrupted, to our neighbours who have had cranes outside their houses, London Road closed for a period, and people working 24 hours a day to repair the railway right in the middle of their neighbourhood.

“That work is going to continue until Monday, as we finish replacing damaged equipment and making sure the railway is fit for action again.

“Our railway is one of the safest in the world and when a rare incident like this happens, we have to find out exactly what went wrong. That’s why we’re working closely with the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, British Transport Police and Office of Rail and Road on their investigations and we will be transparent and open with everyone when we know more about exactly what caused this.”

Claire Mann, Managing Director of South Western Railway, said: “This has been a difficult time for all those affected by last Sunday’s incident and I’d like to thank the Salisbury community, our customers and colleagues for all their help both on the night and over the last ten days.

“Many people rely on our services every day and I am sorry for the disruption this incident has caused and am grateful for their ongoing patience. We have worked tirelessly with Network Rail and our industry partners to reopen the railway and I look forward to welcoming customers back to our services on Tuesday”.

Mark Hopwood, Managing Director of Great Western Railway, said: “Our staff have been overwhelmed by the support shown by customers and the community over the past ten days. The incident last Sunday was challenging for everyone involved, and we are grateful for everyone’s support and patience in the days and weeks since.

“The rail industry has put every effort into reopening the railway as soon as possible, and we’re looking forward to customers returning from 16 November.”

The accident involving an SWR train and a GWR train, occurred on Sunday 31 October, blocking the line just outside the Fisherton Tunnel, where routes from London and Southampton merge on their way into Salisbury.

Since then, the line between Salisbury and Andover has been blocked, with SWR and GWR providing alternative travel arrangements through diversions or rail replacement services.  

Network Rail has been working with partners from across the industry to reopen the railway. So far, five damaged train carriages have been craned out from the accident site, which is in a cutting below the level of the surrounding area near London Road, in the Fisherton area of Salisbury. Almost 1,500 sleepers – the cross-ties that support the track – are being replaced, along with three sets of points, that allow trains to move from one track to another. In addition, 1,000 yards of new track is being laid in the tunnel to provide a smoother ride for passengers.

Signalling equipment including track circuits – which tell us where trains are –  are also being repaired, replaced and thoroughly-tested before the line reopens.

To support passengers’ journeys, buses are running from Salisbury to Andover for South Western Railway customers, and from Salisbury to Romsey for Great Western Railway, with tickets accepted on diversionary routes via Reading.

While London Road was closed over the bridge, a minibus provided transport for neighbours who needed to get round the block, and two local meetings were held to keep the community updated on the work.

RAIB Investigation Update: Collision between passenger trains at Salisbury Tunnel Junction, Wiltshire

At around 18:45 hrs on 31 October 2021, train reporting number 1L53, the 17:20 hrs South Western Railway passenger service from London Waterloo to Honiton, collided with the side of train 1F30, the 17:08 hrs Great Western Railway passenger service from Portsmouth Harbour to Bristol Temple Meads. The collision took place at Salisbury Tunnel Junction, which is on the immediate approach to Fisherton Tunnel, near Salisbury in Wiltshire.

This junction allows the Up and Down Dean lines which lead to and from Eastleigh to merge with the Up and Down Main lines which lead to and from Basingstoke. At the time of the accident train 1F30 was using the junction to join the Down Main line from the Down Dean line, while train 1L53 was approaching the junction on the Down Main line from the direction of Basingstoke.

The impact of the collision caused the front two coaches of train 1L53 and the rear two coaches of train 1F30 to derail. Both trains continued some distance into Fisherton tunnel following the collision, before they came to a stop. Thirteen passengers and one member of railway staff required treatment in hospital as a result of the accident, which also caused significant damage to the trains and railway infrastructure involved.

RAIB’s preliminary examination has found that the movement of train 1F30 across the junction was being protected from trains approaching on the Down Main line by signal SY31, which was at danger (displaying a red aspect). Train 1L53 passed this signal, while it was at danger, by around 220 metres, immediately prior to the collision occurring.

Preliminary analysis of data downloaded from the On Train Data Recorder (OTDR) fitted to train 1L53 shows that the driver initially applied service braking to slow the train on approach to the caution signal before signal SY31. Around 12 seconds after service braking started, the driver made an emergency brake demand. As the train approached signal SY31, and with the emergency brake still being demanded by the driver, a second emergency brake demand was made by the train protection and warning system (TPWS). These emergency brake demands did not prevent the train from reaching the junction, where the collision occurred. OTDR analysis indicates that wheel slide was present both when the driver applied service braking and after emergency braking was demanded. This was almost certainly a result of low adhesion between the train’s wheels and the rails.   

Our investigation will seek to identify the sequence of events which led to the accident. It will also consider:

  • the level of wheel/rail adhesion present on the approach to Salisbury Tunnel junction
  • the status and performance of the braking, wheel slide protection and sanding systems on train 1L53
  • the behaviour of both trains during and following the collision
  • South Western Railway’s policies relating to low wheel/rail adhesion
  • Network Rail’s policies relating to low wheel/rail adhesion and how they managed the risk of low adhesion in this area
  • the processes used to assess and control the risk of overrun at signal SY31
  • any relevant underlying factors, including any actions taken in response to previous safety recommendations.

Our investigation is independent of any investigation by the railway industry, the British Transport Police or by the industry’s regulator, the Office of Rail and Road.

We will publish our findings, including any recommendations to improve safety, at the conclusion of our investigation. This report will be available on our website.

UPDATE

South Western Railway responds to RAIB’s latest update on the Salisbury rail incident
Responding to RAIB’s latest update, Claire Mann, Managing Director of South Western Railway, said:“We welcome RAIB’s update on the scope and aims of its investigation. It is right that they look into all the possible causes of the lack of adhesion between the train and the track, and we are pleased their early assessment shows the South Western Railway driver reacted correctly to the signals by braking to slow the train down. We believe his actions went some way to preventing a much more serious incident and we wish him a speedy recovery .”We will continue to work closely with the relevant authorities and our industry partners on all aspects of the investigation.”

Island Line set to reopen on 1 November

  • The upgraded Island Line is due to reopen on 1 November
  • A series of complications have delayed the £26m project, but the new trains and enhanced infrastructure will transform the customer experience

South Western Railway (SWR) has announced that the upgraded Island Line is set to reopen on 1 November.

Once reopened, customers will return to a transformed Island Line, with new trains running along upgraded infrastructure and through improved stations. 

The new trains will significantly improve the customer experience, with upgrades ranging from better interiors to plug sockets, free WiFi and wheelchair spaces. 

As well as testing the new trains, SWR staff have been busy improving the rail infrastructure and stations on the Island. Amongst other enhancements, the Island Line tracks have been upgraded to ensure customers can enjoy a smoother ride. 

The £26 million project, which has been funded by the Department for Transport, Isle of Wight Council and Solent Local Enterprise Partnership, has regrettably taken longer to complete than first anticipated. This has been due to several factors including train testing complications, the pandemic and even the flash flooding which engulfed the Isle of Wight earlier this summer. 

During testing, the new Class 484 Island Line trains have been affected by software issues, which SWR and train supplier Vivarail have made good progress in solving through further testing. The final phase of testing is key to the delivery of a safe and reliable railway. 

The first passenger train will depart Ryde St Johns Road station at 05:35, calling at Ryde Esplanade at 05:39 and Ryde Pier Head at 05:41. The train will then head back down the line, departing Ryde Pier Head at 05:45, and arriving into Shanklin at 06:10.  

Commenting, Claire Mann, Managing Director of South Western Railway, said: 
“We are really pleased that the Island Line is set to reopen on 1 November. 

“When the Island Line reopens, the new trains and upgraded infrastructure will give a real boost to the customer experience, delivering the modern, punctual and accessible railway that people expect and deserve. 

“We are sorry that this project has taken longer to deliver than we first hoped, with a series of complications sadly delaying re-opening. However, we are confident that the transformed Island Line will be worth wait, and we are so excited to welcome locals and visitors back onboard!”

Climate Train sets off to COP26

A special ‘Climate Train’ will operate between the Netherlands and Scotland today carrying passengers to COP26, the international climate change conference in Glasgow.

  • Rail companies across Europe unite with Youth for Sustainable Travel for special train to COP26
  • Service will begin at Amsterdam, bringing delegations and youth activists from across the continent to Glasgow for COP26
  • Journey will showcase importance of rail travel in battle against climate change

A special ‘Climate Train’ will operate between the Netherlands and Scotland today carrying passengers to COP26, the international climate change conference in Glasgow, thanks to a partnership between Avanti West Coast, Eurostar, NS, ProRail and Youth for Sustainable Travel. 

Official delegations from the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Germany will join young people, MEPs, and NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and Oxfam, to enjoy one of the more sustainable ways to travel between the continent and COP26.

With a passenger’s carbon footprint from one flight between Amsterdam and London the equivalent of seven Eurostar journeys1, there are significant carbon savings to be made by improving access to fast, seamless rail connections between the UK and the continent.

Rail Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, said: “Our railways are one of the most sustainable ways for people to travel. As we host the world at COP26, I’m proud that our railway is playing its part in the fight against climate change. We are committed to achieving a net zero rail network by 2050, ensuring our railways continue to play a pivotal role in enabling greener, cleaner journeys for passengers.”

Executive Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, who will be in Brussels-Midi station to send the train off this Saturday, said: “Taking the train to the climate summit in Glasgow is without a doubt the most climate friendly way for delegations to travel there. The train is sustainable and provides plenty of comfort, whether you travel for work or for pleasure. Moreover, inside Europe, the train is fast becoming an increasingly attractive alternative for flying, especially on shorter distances. I wish all travellers on the Climate Train an enjoyable journey and most of all I wish them plenty of success at the summit – we will see each other in Glasgow next week!”

Whilst travelling at 186mph between Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Brussels and London, youth activists will come together with politicians and rail experts to debate and exchange ideas, tackling topics such as how to accelerate the modal shift towards sustainable travel and how innovation in rail can support this. 

On arrival in the UK, delegates will make their way between St Pancras and Euston via London’s first “Wellbeing Walk” – an alternative walking route which aims to avoid high levels of pollution on the busier roads.

One of Avanti West Coast’s iconic Pendolinos, which is carrying delegates on the London to Glasgow part of the journey, has been fully wrapped with a unique sustainability design to celebrate the Climate Train journey. One flight between London and Glasgow is also the equivalent of almost seven train journeys. 2

 A competition will be launched on social media to name the train to go alongside the design which was applied with the support of train builder Alstom, Aura Graphics and rolling stock company Angel Trains who own and invest in the Pendolino fleet.

Watch time lapse footage of the Climate Train being wrapped here

To mark the departure of the Climate Train, rail partners across Continental Europe have signed a message to COP26 – pledging to remain the most sustainable form of motorised transport, with a call for greater support for international rail routes in order to accelerate growth in sustainable travel.

Train operators in Britain also support the UK government’s commitment to deliver a net zero railway network by 2050, which research shows could create almost 6,000 long-term jobs, and to remove all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040.

Jacques Damas, Chief Executive Officer, Eurostar said: “Pre pandemic, demand for international high-speed rail had grown consistently across two decades, as passengers increasingly recognise the benefits of train versus plane. As an industry, our challenge is to take this further, helping our customers lower their carbon footprint as we invest in routes, timetables and a seamless customer experience. The Climate Train is a symbol of partnership between rail operators and a show of commitment to meet growing customer expectations when it comes to sustainable travel. “

Phil Whittingham, Managing Director, Avanti West Coast said: “Climate change is a serious threat to everyone on the planet and Avanti West Coast, like the wider rail industry, is committed to cleaner, greener transport for all. By uniting with operators across the continent, the Climate Train’s journey illustrates the ease of travelling between countries providing customers with a sustainable alternative.

“But our commitment goes beyond COP26. For example, in the next few years we will be replacing our diesel only trains with a combination of electric and bi-mode trains that will substantially reduce our carbon footprint and impact on the environment.”

The Climate Train concept was initiated by not-for-profit organisation Youth for Sustainable Travel and Dutch rail infrastructure manager ProRail, and became a reality thanks to collaboration with carriers Eurostar, NS and Avanti West Coast. It benefits from the financial support of all Infrastructure managers on the route (Infrabel, SNCF Réseau, Getlink, HS1) as well as SNCB and EWS Schönau. The initiative is also supported by CER – the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies, EIM – European Rail Infrastructure Managers and UIC – the International Union of Railways as part of the EU Year of Rail.

Network Rail completes longest civilian BVLOS drone flight over dry land

Network Rail’s air operations team have successfully flown a drone Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) for 25 kilometres over dry land – believed to be the furthest such civilian drone flight in Britain.

Air ops BVLOS

The proof-of-concept flight – which took place yesterday (Wednesday 27 October) from Bicester along the East West Railway – is the culmination of 18 months of work. It is a significant step forward in terms of how drones can be used to inspect the railway safely, quickly and cost-effectively.

Drones and helicopters have long been used by Network Rail to identify faults on the railway, helping to predict and prevent failures to reduce disruption for passengers, while also representing a safer form of maintenance by limiting the number of manual inspections that need to be carried out by foot.

Until now, drones were only ever flown above the railway when they were in clear sight of the operator, and usually only for four or five kilometres at a time. While this can still be a helpful tool to inspect Britain’s rail infrastructure, it requires the team involved to set up multiple times at different locations. The ability to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight enables the air operations team to inspect the railway over a much larger area while saving valuable time and costs.

Air ops BVLOS

Rikke Carmichael, Network Rail’s head of air operations, said: “While flying Beyond Visual Line of Sight will ultimately provide us with much greater capability, it is worth emphasising that this was a proof-of-concept flight, and that a shift to using BVLOS as business as usual will take some time.

“Nonetheless, yesterday was an important milestone and I’d like to thank my team for all their hard work on this project over the last couple of years. We’ll now turn our attention to agreeing a strategy for using drones both VLOS and BVLOS, after which we will want to engage with industry for the next exciting phase of BVLOS becoming another routine service the Air Ops team provides the business.”

A Network Rail helicopter also flew alongside the drone to test whether or not the two could work together, and whether their respective systems recognised each other. It was proved that they did work effectively together. Data captured by the helicopter will be used to create a ‘digital twin’ of the railway that was flown over.