Published 8th March 2012
The sole idea behind the project is that two services could leave London’s Euston within three minutes of each other, occupying the single 100mph path currently used. With the trains running at 110mph, the opportunity to path the faster trains via the direct express route to Rugby via Weedon, rather than the Northampton loop.
Technical trials have already taken place, using modified components, and will continue to be tested to ensure that the programme can take place safely and reliably. Should the outcomes be successful, the off peak services operating via Weedon can commence in December of this year, with the new faster peak hour proposed timetable coming into force in May of 2014.
The proposed scheme of departures from London Euston in the off peak would see the incumbent service departing at 13 minutes past each hour for Northampton, which runs fast to Leighton Buzzard, remaining unchanged.
After this, the incumbent service at 46 minutes past each hour would no longer call at Watford Junction or Northampton, instead operating fast to Milton Keynes, and then via Weedon to Rugby. This train would continue to Crewe via Tamworth and Stafford, and could potentially save 25 minutes from the journey time south of Rugby.
The new service, departing at 49 minutes past each hour from London Euston, would call at Watford Junction, Milton Keynes, Northampton, Long Buckby, Rugby and stations to Birmingham New Street. A similar service would operate in the reverse direction.
It is likely that the new service would present a challenge to Virgin Trains’ express services from Rugby to London Euston, as the journey time penalty with London Midland will be very minor.
In morning peak hours, it is proposed that two services operated by London Midland will operate fast from Northampton to London Euston, taking only 46 minutes. These would both complement the existing services, thus improving capacity in terms of seats available for commuters.
In the evening peak, there would be as many as five additional London Midland services towards Northampton and Rugby. Two of these, at 16:46 and 17:46, would call only at Milton Keynes Central and Rugby before going forward to Crewe via Tamworth. The other services would see a mixture of results, with a number operating fast to Leighton Buzzard or Milton Keynes.
The net increase in peak hour seats available into London Euston in the morning would be 1,398 (or around 10%). The increase in seats away from London Euston in the evening peak would be as much as 2,768 (or around 20%). This is partly achieved by the seven new Class 350/3 units which will be delivered to London Midland from Siemens.
Naturally, there are some adverse consequences to this, with no direct London Midland service available from Watford Junction to Nuneaton, Tamworth, Stafford and Stoke. This is a relatively new service introduced by London Midland and it is anticipated passengers will connect at Milton Keynes Central for this service. There would also be no off peak service from Northampton to the same stations on the Trent Valley and in the Staffordshire area, which is expected to be counter-balanced by offering connections at Rugby.
As a frequent traveller on the route to places such as Nuneaton and Tamworth from London Euston, I will be very grateful for the journey time decreases, but I can see a very different side to the coin here. The people of Watford almost entirely lost their Intercity services in the Virgin High Frequency timetable, with the best option for places such as Liverpool and Manchester being to go against the direction of travel and going to Euston.
There is a market from Watford and Northampton to the Trent Valley, but to run faster services from Nuneaton, Tamworth and Lichfield among others to London is probably a priority, and I hope that the increase in passenger numbers is not bucked by the need to change at Rugby. I do, however, believe London Midland should be praised for their enterprise in their franchise.