Tuesday 3 June 2008

The race to link South Humber with London

No service since 1992, and now 4 proposals have emerged to link the South Bank to London ... It could only happen in the world of the railways. Shouldn't complain though becuase an important rail link looks certain to be restored. So who's the competitiors in the race?

Firstly there is a proposal which first came to light in 2006, from a company called Humber Coast and City Railway, set up by Renaissance Trains, who founded both Hull Trains and WSMR. Their plan is to link Cleethorpes with Stratford (site of the 2012 Olympics) via Lincoln, Peterborough and Cambridge. Very little of late has been heard about this plan, which may mean it is no longer under consideration, or work is continuing out of the public eye.

Then earlier this year three separate proposals/aspirations were submitted to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) - from Hull Trains, National Express East Coast and Grand Union. At the same time they presented proposals for various other new services on the East Coast Mainline and the ORR has to decide which propoals to allow since all cannot be accomodated.

Hull Trains proposed a new Cleethorpes to Kings Cross service; like the Humber Coast and City proposal it would operate via Lincoln and Sleaford to Peterborough but then via the East Coast Main Line to London Kings Cross. Parkway stations in South Lincolnshire were a big part of the plan.

National Express East Coast (NXEC) proposed extended some of their new Lincoln-London Kings Cross services to start at Cleethorpes. The Lincoln-London leg is a franchise commitment that will definetly happen.

Grand Union presented a proposal to operate from Cleethorpes to London Kings Cross calling at Grimsby Town, Habrough, Scunthorpe, Thorne South and Doncaster.

So those are the contenders, but who will win? Not going to try and guess that but heres a few thoughts ...

The Humber Coast and City Plan avoids abstracting revenue away from existing operators and apart from in Peterbourough doesn't use the congested East Coast Main Line. So thats likely to go down well with the rail industry. But that comes at a price. going from Cleethorpes to London via Lincoln, Sleaford, Peterbourgh and Cambridge is a very long route and it wouldn't surprise me if a change at Doncaster would be faster.

And is Stratford the best terminus? Sure, its a very important part of London, and great for the Docklands. But not very good for Central London. A Stratford-Cambridge/Peterborough link might be useful for commuters who already have Central London links, but I can see a Humber/Lincolnshire-Stratford link not getting that much use. Leisure travellers will mostly want Central London and many business travellers too. Finally, the West Anglia Main Line from Cambridge to Stratford is very congested too.

Now for Hull Trains. Again not the quickest route to Peterborough but at least it goes to Kings Cross. Nice plans for parkway stations in South Lincolnshire but not the strongest of the four proposals.

So the two strongest contenders in my opinion. Firstly National Express East Coast (NXEC). Their proposals use no additional East Coast Main Line capacity, simply extended trains with paths already allocated on the East Coast Main Line. Going via Lincoln and Newark is just about the most direct route possible. A very good proposal.

But the Grand Union outline plan isn't bad either. Again a fairly direct route and it serves Scunthorpe and Thorne (park and ride potential). A slight oddity is serving Habrough over Barnetby - as nice as Habrough maybe Barnetby is the bigger station - but time to change that, or even better serve both. Revenue abstratction from Doncaster maybe an issue however, and sister company Grand Central's major problems won't help at all - they can't currently run existing services never mind new ones.

Of course as well as the pros and cons of each proposal there are other issues such as the small matter of sourcing rolling stock. And the ORR may decide other areas of the country need new services more than South Humber and award track capacity to those services instead. However it is great to see a vote of confidence in the area by the four companies wanting to provide new services to the South Humber Bank. Good Luck to them all.

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