THE Office of Rail Regulation must decide whether Virgin Trains should be allowed to run its trains to Shrewsbury and Blackpool North, after Network Rail refused the request. Virgin said it was disappointed by the ruling, and described it as 'defeatist'.
Virgin, which is currently in talks with the Department for Transport about extending its Wesr Coast contract to 2017, is proposing to provide two trains a day from London to Shrewsbury and Blackpool. The Shrewsbury trains would take an unusual route, avoiding Birmingham. Instead, they would run via the Trent Valley as far as Stafford, where they would reverse and continue via Penkridge to a chord just outside Wolverhampton which would take them on to the line to Telford and Shrewsbury.
The Blackpool trains would be extensions of existing services, which would leave the West Coast Main Line at Preston and continue to Blackpool North via Poulton-le-Fylde.
However, Network Rail said a shortage of paths meant that there was no room for additional trains. A spokesman said: "Today there are twice as many trains using the West Coast Main Line as a decade ago and, just like a busy motorway during rush hour, more trains mean that if something goes wrong, the knock-on effects can be significant.
“We have acknowledged that performance on the West Coast line is not good enough and we are taking steps to improve performance on the route. However, adding more services on to what is already the busiest mixed use railway line in the UK mean would mean a trade off with punctuality. It would have a significant negative impact on the performance of other services.”
Virgin is also currently in dispute with Network Rail about West Coast performance and is claiming that infrastructure-related delays have damaged its business. However, a spokesman said it did not accept that there was no room for the additional trains, and added: "We are disappointed, certainly, and we find Network Rail's attitude defeatist. We are appealing the ruling."
The ORR said it was aware of the dispute, and had already received representations from other operators on the West Coast route. It will now consider all the views and make a determination in due course.