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09:50 - 02 November 2006
Rundown railways in the West are being given a 750 million revamp, we can reveal.

In an exclusive interview with the Western Daily Press, regional Network Rail supremo Robbie Burns admitted the region had been short-changed in the past.

But he said commuters and travellers will soon reap the benefit of millions of pounds being spent on better track.

Among the improvements will be a better service between Bristol and the West and London Paddington, and work to build a third platform at Bristol Parkway.

Other areas to benefit include Worle junction, in Weston-super-Mare.

"In the early Nineties fewer people were using the network so no money was spent in the Western area," said Mr Burns, Network Rail's route director for the Western region.

"Now we're reversing that trend."

Commuters have been promised a railway fit for the 21st century after rail chiefs unveiled plans for a 750 million revamp of the region's ailing network.

Network Rail, which looks after the infrastructure of Britain's railways, admitted the region had long suffered a lack of investment.

But bosses vowed to put things right with a massive programme of refurbishment across the Western region over the next three years.

Robbie Burns, Network Rail's route director for the Western region, acknowledged that the West's railway had suffered from under-investment for the best part of 25 years.

Mr Burns said a steady programme of refurbishment and upgrades would see passengers benefit from better performance by train companies and fewer delays.

Major track improvement work was carried out on the mainline between the West and London Paddington at Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, in August this year.

Mr Burns promised it was just the beginning of a three-year scheme that would help Network Rail's Western region get up to speed with other parts of Britain's railways.

"It's all about catching up," said Mr Burns, whose office is a stone's throw from Swindon railway station. "Five years ago we were delivering pretty modest levels of work on the West's network. In 2001, just before Network Rail was established, we delivered only 11 sets of new points in our region.

"When you consider there are 3,000 sets of points on our route, we knew if we carried on at that rate we would have a serious problem.

"We have increased work across the route by a factor of four for repairing and replacing tracks, and by a factor of 10 for points which means we'll be replacing 100 sets this year."

Railway points have a life span of about 40 years but, on average, those in the West are significantly older than those in other parts of the country.

In addition, the average age of the rails which West trains run on are also worryingly higher than in other parts of Britain.

The average age of railway lines in the Western area is 32.5 years, compared with 28 years on Network Rail's London North East area and 26.8 years in the London North West area.

Meanwhile, nearly half of the track of the rejuvenated West Coast Main Line between London and Glasgow was laid after 1998.

"The West has suffered from under-investment for the best part of 25 years," Mr Burns conceded. "Rail put on the ground in the late 1960s and early Seventies is now pretty much life-expired."

The network Mr Burns is responsible for covers a huge area from London Paddington to Swansea as well as the route through Bristol, Somerset and Devon, down to Penzance in Cornwall. It also goes into mid-Wales and as far north as Hereford.

"In total, we're responsible for 3,215 miles of track, 387 stations and nearly 13,000 bridges," he explained.

"For a variety of historical reasons, a lot of money has been invested into the West Coast Main Line, while money also went into upgrading the East Coast Main Line.

"But in the early Nineties fewer people were using the network so no money was spent in the Western area.

"We're reversing that trend, however. I feel that it's now our time."

Mr Burns' masterplan includes building extra platforms at Reading station, a notorious bottleneck which creates a knock-on effect for people travelling between the West and Paddington.

ON the Cotswold line, part of which is single track, trains running between Oxford and Hereford will benefit from a new dynamic loop line that will allow more trains to pass each other.

Elsewhere, work to build a third platform at Bristol Parkway is scheduled to start in January next year.

In 2008, work will be carried out at Worle junction to make it easier for trains to cross the busy mainline to enter the Weston-super- Mare loop. It will help cut journey times. The next major phase of engineering work, taking place between Highbridge and Burnham and Taunton stations, will begin later this month and cost 10 million.

Some 10,000 metres of new track and sleepers will be laid and ballast will be cleaned and replaced.

The work will mean the line will be closed between the two Somerset stations from Monday, November 20, to Friday, December 8.

Passengers on some services between will be diverted via Bath Spa.

Replacement bus services will transfer passengers on other services between Taunton and Highbridge and Burnham.
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