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Investment in the railway has delivered major environmental, congestion and passenger benefits

1 April 2019

Improvements to the West Coast Mainline (WCML) have delivered major benefits for passengers, the environment, communities and local economies, according to a report published today (01 April).

Transformation of the West Coast Mainline: How rail investment is benefitting people, the environment and the economy found that upgrades to the line, along with the introduction of the transformative Virgin High Frequency timetable, have achieved not just better journeys and increased passenger numbers, but also regional and local economic growth, less congested roads and lower carbon emissions from transport. 

Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport which produced the report, said: "At a time when rail investment is being questioned because of poorly implemented timetable changes, problems with franchises and over-running and over-budget projects, it is easy to lose sight of the huge benefits which can be achieved. Rather than being happy side effects, outcomes such as lower carbon emissions, support for local economies and tackling road congestion should be regarded as a direct consequence of support for the railways.

"The improvements to the West Coast Mainline were achieved thanks to a partnership of government and industry investment. With radical changes to the UK rail system under consideration as part of the Rail Review, this report shows how thinking, collaboration and cooperation can have far reaching and long-term benefits." 

Phil Whittingham, Managing Director for Virgin Trains which commissioned the research, added: "The partnership approach we took to investing in the Virgin High Frequency timetable, and introducing our new trains, has helped transform the West Coast railway and had a positive impact on the communities and economies it serves. A decade on is a useful time to reflect on how we've achieved one of the biggest timetable changes since privatisation without hitch and with it a significant rebalancing of the UK's economy. This report offers a useful insight into how it was put together."

John Stevenson, MP for Carlisle and Chair of the West Coast Mainline All Party Parliamentary Group said, "As someone who regularly travels on the line itself, I am delighted to see the line continuing to thrive as a transport artery for our country.

"The improvements that this report identifies demonstrate that proper investment in our rail network has a real impact – and I will continue to push for this, and to work with all partners to ensure that the West Coast Mainline delivers for the passengers who use it."

The report found a number of benefits as a result of the improvements to the 400 mile WCML, which connects London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow:

Passenger benefits: 

  • Current growth levels will see 50 million journeys on the west coast intercity route ahead of HS2 opening in 2026, up from 14 million in 1997
  • Capacity has been increased by up to three times on key routes 
  • Shorter journey times mean someone travelling once a week between Birmingham and London over the last decade will have spent the equivalent of eight weeks less on the train. The same passenger switching from road to rail on that route would save nearly six months of working days. 

Congestion benefits: 

  • Saved over seven million additional car journeys a year between London and Manchester
  • Saved up to 26,000 additional daily car journeys on the M1 and M40 
  • Prevented a 17 per cent increase in peak time traffic flows north of Birmingham 
  • Removed up to one million car journeys from the Lake District National Park
  • Prevented a minute a mile increase in journey times on the M1 between London and Luton. 

Environmental benefits:

  • Flights to Manchester from other cities served by the West Coast have declined by two thirds (67 per cent)
  • 1.7 million fewer people flying between London and Manchester, resulting in 5,000 fewer flights and 60,000 tonnes of carbon savings 
  • Rail's share of the market between Glasgow and London grew from eight per cent in 2009 to 20 per cent in 2017.


Case study examples: Manchester
Greater Manchester's creative, digital and technology sector has seen dramatic growth over the last ten years with high frequency and high-speed rail connections a key factor underpinning the success. The creative sector now employs over 84,000 people in the city, contributes £63 billion to the region's economy and was recently ranked above Shanghai, Copenhagen and Madrid in the Innovation Cities Index, with good transport connectivity identified among its central strengths. The BBC played a central role in seeding the creative sector's growth and the corporation's decision to take up residence in 2011 was partly dependent on the West Coast's modernisation and high-quality links to London. The BBC now employs 3,200 staff at MediaCityUK in Salford, the largest purpose-built centre of its kind in Europe. Other notable businesses with a presence in Manchester include IBM, ITV and Microsoft. 

Case study examples: The Lake District
The Lake District is one of the UK's most popular tourist destinations, but its 19 million annual visitors can have a detrimental effect, clogging roads and detracting from its beauty. To maintain the natural resources on which the area's £1.41 billion tourism industry is built, the National Park Authority has adopted a strategy to reduce the number of visitors arriving by car by a fifth by 2040. Rail is at the centre of this. Served by regular WCML trains, Oxenholme Lake District and Penrith North Lakes stations have seen passenger growth of 66 per cent and 57 per cent respectively in the last decade, removing up to a million car journeys from the roads. As impressively, both stations have become important hubs for onward travel. More than half a million rail interchanges now take place at the stations, including a connection to the Lakes Line to Windermere. Virgin West Coast and Network Rail have improved facilities for non-rail and onward travel including better taxi and parking provisions, National Express coach stop at Penrith North Lakes and the Co-Wheels car club offering electric car hire at both stations.

For further information please contact the press office on 020 3746 2235 or communications@bettertransport.org.uk

Notes to Editors

  • Read Transformation of the West Coast Mainline: How rail investment is benefitting people, the environment and the economy. (Read the technical note that accompanies this report.)
  • The 400-mile West Coast Mainline (WCML) is one of Europe's busiest rail corridors. At peak periods, the highspeed lines carry up to 16 trains per hour at 125 mph, more than some purpose built highspeed lines. But in the 1990s, the West Coast was creaking with capacity and performance well below those of the East Coast and Great Western routes. The West Coast Route Modernisation project was undertaken from 1998 to 2009 to upgrade the whole route and its services. This included introducing tilting Pendolino and Super Voyager train fleets as well as upgrading 430 miles of track, 2,149 signals, 13 major junctions, 837 switches and crossings, 56 platforms, 179 bridges, and 77 level crossings.
  • Campaign for Better Transport is the UK's leading authority on sustainable transport. We champion transport solutions that improve people's lives and reduce environmental damage. Our campaigns push innovative, practical policies at local and national levels. Campaign for Better Transport Charitable Trust is a registered charity (1101929).

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