Hereford has been the terminus for through inter-city trains to/from London for many years since the days of the original Great Western Railway. Perhaps the most famous train was the Cathedrals Express, where one could get a civilised breakfast! However, over the last quarter century there have been a number of debates over the future of these through services via Worcester and the North Cotswold Line. The latest insecurity to emerge emanates from Worcestershire County Council’s report on the future of rail services in that county. The report makes no mention of the development of the Hereford end of the line, services seemingly ending at Great Malvern. In contrast, the report does place some emphasis on the idea of resurrecting through London trains from Kidderminster.
With this in mind your committee member Michael Sullivan has established contact with Tom Pierpoint, Regional Development Manager for Great Western Railway. Mr Pierpoint’s reply was very encouraging, he states:
‘As you may be aware we are in the process of introducing new intercity Express Trains (IETs) across the network, which will first operate on the North Cotswold Line as far as Worcester in January 2018 and which will operate to Hereford from the summer of 2018. IETs will have fully replaced HSTs by the December 2018 timetable change, which is a major restructuring of our entire High Speed network. It is planned that Hereford will retain the current 6 through services in the UP direction and five in the DOWN’
The establishment of a dialogue with the Great Western Railway is very important and fundamental to a continuing monitoring and campaign to develop the Hereford through services via Worcester. Unfortunately the biggest disincentive to developing the Hereford services and a current cause of delay is the single line sections between Malvern Wells and Shelwick Junction (Hereford) with a passing loop at Ledbury. This section of line also is shared with the hourly Hereford-Birmingham services of West Midlands Trains. Invariably track capacity constraints lead to unreliability on both services.
So, whilst the will power may well be there from the Train Operator, the means to deliver an improved service is outside of the operators control, the track and signalling infrastructure being vested in Network Rail. Network Rail work on 5 year control periods for infrastructure investment. The Worcester-Hereford line comes under their West Midlands Region and that region’s route study report of 2017 does acknowledge the constraints on this section of line. The report states:
Between Worcester and Hereford there are a number of single track sections, which limit the ability to run further services and constrain the timetable. Recent provision of news signalling in the Hereford area has enabled services from the West Midlands to turn back at Hereford station without the need to undertake a time consuming and complicated operating manoeuvre.’
However, this goes little way to seriously improving line capacity and there is no mention in the report of future investment to reinstate double track sections, especially between Ledbury and Shelwick Junction. This is despite the fact that the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership identified the double track reinstatement as a top priority in their report ‘Investing in Strategic Transport Corridors in the Marches’ and the Midlands Connect Partnership in their report ‘Developing a Transport Strategy for the Midlands’ identified Worcester-Hereford-South Wales as an intensive growth corridor which with investment would yield considerable economic and social benefits.
Clearly both the London and the Birmingham services would benefit significantly from track and signalling investment between Ledbury and Hereford at a cost lower than many other schemes. It is up to our local transport authority (as part of Midland Connect) and the Marches LEP as a funding body to continuously push this matter to the fore. Rail & Bus for Herefordshire is there to assist.