Page 2: The need for modernisation
Originally built in the 1830s and 1840s, the West Coast Main Line was the first inter-city railway in the world. In the first half of this century, parts of the line were widened to four tracks and the line was electrified between 1955 and 1975. Although there has been some replacement of signalling and track components, as well as the development of international freight terminals, the line has changed little in the last 20 years.
Today, however, it is clear that the West Coast Main Line is in need of major equipment renewal. In the public sector, the competitive positioning of the Line weakened as resources were not provided to support its development. Modernisation has become more urgent as the Line is now losing business to air travel (particularly on the London- Manchester route) and to road transport on the M1, M40, M6 and M74 corridors.
There have been several previous proposals to upgrade the line. In the late 1960s and 1970s, British Rail developed the Advanced Passenger Train, designed to achieve faster speeds through the use of ‘tilting’ technology. Although the concept was sound, testing highlighted its unreliability due to less advanced control technology. In the late 1980s, a line modernisation scheme was proposed but rejected in favour of a competing proposal for Networker trains in the South East.
In early 1994, Railtrack and its private sector partner set about examining the best way to modernise the West Coast Main Line. Restoring the Line as the nation’s premier rail route represents one of the great railway initiatives of our generation. Since privatisation, ownership of the railway infrastructure has been transferred to Railtrack. Railtrack also has the responsibility for safety, working within the network and the timetable. Its position is central within the structure of the new industry.