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More trains and fewer delays for Great Western passengers as Network Rail kicks off five-year, £7bn investment programme

Rail passengers in the south west of England and the Thames Valley can look forward to more trains, more seats, reduced congestion and better stations as Network Rail today embarks on the largest capital spending programme on the rail network since Victorian times.

The ambitious five-year plan will see the busiest parts of the Western route transformed by more than £7bn of investment, making a tangible improvement to people’s lives and providing a significant boost to the economy. To do this, Network Rail and its industry partners will deliver a programme of investment to tackle the severe problem of congestion on the busiest parts of the Great Western main line, providing more than 10,000 extra commuter seats at peak times.

Growing cities and towns, including Bristol, Oxford and Reading, will benefit from capital expenditure projects aimed at relieving overcrowding by building new tracks, uncorking bottlenecks, increasing capacity and upgrading outdated stations. Amongst these projects is a £700m Western Hub programme in Bristol, where passengers are set benefit from more trains, better connectivity and improved performance by 2019.

Patrick Hallgate, route managing director, Network Rail Western, said: “Britain’s railways are a vital part of our national infrastructure. They connect homes and workplaces, businesses with markets, they create jobs, stimulate trade and support the growth of a balanced economy.

“Passenger numbers in recent years have grown far beyond even our own industry’s predictions, so it’s vital that this investment over the next five years helps meet the continuing increase in demand for rail travel. Bigger, better stations, more tracks and longer platforms, electric powered trains, reopened railway lines and fewer level crossings – all will help deliver more frequent, more comfortable, more reliable journeys and a safer railway for everyone."

The next five years will also see Network Rail committing itself to furthering its environmental sustainability and resilience in the face of extreme weather and changing climate. Besides boosting the resilience of the railway with a £31m intervention plan, Network Rail will also be publishing its first ever Western route climate change adaptation strategy. The strategy sets out the long-term plan to battle against the impact from changing climate and extreme weather at vulnerable sites, including Dawlish, where sea level is forecast to rise.

In addition to this capital expenditure, around £400m will be invested in replacing 625miles of track and £200m will be spent on upgrading structures on the route. From 1 April, Network Rail will also be directly managing Reading and Bristol Temple Meads stations, with an aim to significantly improve passenger experience by offering better services and facilities at these stations. – end -

Notes to editors

- The continued growth in the popularity of rail travel means that by 2019 the industry will need to cater for a forecast growth of 51% in passenger number, which currently stands at 50m a year on the Great Western main line. This growth has led to severe overcrowding at the busiest times of day on many trains especially in Bristol, Oxford and Reading. Trains between Reading and the capital account for six of the 10 most overcrowded rail journeys in Britain and Bristol has the largest forecast growth of 42% in the south west of England.

- Major capital projects to be implemented over the next five years include:

Western Hub – A £700m investment programme to improve connectivity, boost performance and introduce 3,200 more seats during peak hours through Bristol. It involves 31 individual projects, including amongst others electrification, four-tracking of Filton Bank, track remodelling at Bristol East junction, new platforms at Bristol Parkway and upgrading Bristol Temple Meads station.

Oxford - The portfolio of investment in the Oxford area will improve capacity and capability through the core Oxford Corridor (Didcot North Junction - Aynho Junction), to cater for growth in passenger and freight services on the key strategic link connecting the South Coast ports to the West Midlands and Scotland. The scheme also enables rail services in to Oxford from London-Marylebone and supports the introduction of East West Rail.

Electrification – The GWML from Paddington to Bristol, Oxford and Newbury is to be electrified by 2016-17, which will allow the introduction of new Intercity Express Programme: Super Express Trains. These trains will have 20% more seats and their faster acceleration and deceleration will lead to journey time reductions of up to 22 minutes.

Crossrail - The new high density service between Reading to Maidenhead and Heathrow Airport, and east London, via the West End and City of London, will run from December 2019. This will reduce crowding on the eastern stretch of Western route beyond Maidenhead by 30%.

Heathrow western rail access – The creation of a rail link between Heathrow and the GWML, via Slough and Reading, would deliver fast direct services to the UK’s largest airport and present longer-term opportunities to link with high speed services from 2021.

Paddington station improvement – Reconfiguring the approaches of Paddington station to create more rooms for more trains into the station at peak times by 2019. 

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