Published: 16th February 2016
Train services operated by First TransPennine Express, Caledonian Sleepers and Virgin Trains can return to their normal routes north of Carlisle a few days earlier than originally thought. Freight operators have also suffered with trains being diverted.
The West Coast Main Line had been closed from 31 December 2015 following flood damage to the Lamington viaduct carrying the route over the River Clyde in South Lanarkshire. Initially, it was thought that closure would continue for around one month then the closure of the line was extended to 1 March.
Now it has been decided that the line can reopen from 22 February thanks to progress on restoration of the viaduct at Lamington.
This means that Edinburgh can be reconnected directly by rail to England via Carlisle for the first time in many weeks and Glasgow can once again enjoy trains to Manchester, Birmingham and London by the most direct route.
Freight trains and Caledonian Sleepers have had to use alternative routes during restoration work through Lamington. While Virgin Trains played down the more extreme aspects of the closure, pointing to diverted trains through Dumfries between Glasgow and Carlisle connecting there with services to and from the south, Edinburgh has been disconnected from key parts of England for any length of time on the first occasion in around 168 years.
During the closure, Glasgow has had diverted trains to and from England, and Lockerbie has been served by First TransPennine Express to and from Carlisle and the south. But Edinburgh’s only reasonable surface links with Carlisle and several parts of England have been by road. Buses have operated between Edinburgh and Carlisle instead of trains run by Virgin Trains and First TransPennine Express.
The restoration of the normal rail route through Lamington means that trains can once again run between the stations at Lockerbie and Carstairs and beyond.
The ScotRail Alliance involving Abellio and Network Rail Scotland confirmed that part of the Lamington Viaduct over the Clyde had been on the brink of failure following flood damage by Storm Frank on New Year’s Eve.
Phil Verster, managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, said that engineers had worked around the clock to restore the railway. The project had been hugely challenging and involved a race against time during difficult weather.
Mr Verster told BBC Scotland: “Our engineers have faced atrocious conditions throughout this project and I am really proud of their hard work and their absolute commitment to getting the line open again.”
Phil Bearpark, executive director of operations and projects at Virgin Trains, and Liz Collins, interim managing director of First TransPennine Express were among those to welcome news of the reopening.
Although the route carries no ScotRail trains as such, it is a key part of Network Rail’s infrastructure in Scotland.
In addition to the repair costs, Network Rail will have had to pay continuing compensation to all the train companies whose services were diverted, cancelled or altered. This is known as Schedule 4 and 8 in Track Access Agreements. Schedule 4 is payable when Network Rail blocks a line for unplanned repairs preventing trains running. Schedule 8 is payable when trains are delayed by a speed restriction for example.
The Lamington closure was caused by torrential rain which is not Network Rail’s fault! The consequential compensation payments they will make to train companies will have run into millions of pounds and the contractual process is designed to pay for passenger refunds, loss of business and extra costs in providing coaches or extra train staff.
Most train companies will make a profit from the compensation and it is known that some senior players in the rail industry no longer see this compensation as being a useful tool to encourage good performance.
There are an estimated several hundred staff employed purely to establish whose fault delays are attributable to. The ultimate loser is the Department for Transport as they own Network Rail and Network Rail will always lose out in the compensation regimes. The fact that there are so many trains operating now means that there are more delays because there is no spare capacity on many routes.
It could be said that the floods are a drain on taxpayers’ finances, literally money down the drain!