Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Limits Of Creeping Shinyness

Our second railway case study takes us to the riverside cathedral city of Worcester. It might seem odd to consider a city with two central railway stations to be underserved, but a brief analysis of the topology of things shows a fundamental problem. The mainline (in this case the Bristol-Birmingham line) runs some miles to the east of the city, leaving the primary station, Shrub Hill, isolated on a slow loop line. Furthermore, Shrub Hill is within the city limits but is not exactly central; Foregate Street is better located, but services from Birmingham have to reverse out of Shrub Hill to call at both.

The service that really suffers from Shrub Hill’s location is, however, the Hereford-Worcester-Oxford line. This route could be a significant strategic link, providing the fast route to Oxford from Bristol and Cardiff, except that with the lack of fast trains to Worcester it requires a double change and such passengers are better off using the Birmingham-Reading line. With no long-distance passengers at the Worcester end, the Oxford-Worcester leg operates as a local stopping service, albeit one that extends thereafter to London.

But what makes all this a case study? Well, the Worcester-Oxford line crosses over the Birmingham-Bristol to the south-east of the city. It’s some way out, but no more so than somewhere like Tiverton Parkway and on a greenfield site with no real space restrictions. With a station here you could;

  • Restore Cross-Country services running fast to Birmingham, Bristol and destinations nationally
  • Restore direct semi-fast services to Derby, Nottingham, Newport and Cardiff
  • Institute true fast and semi-fast services calling at Hereford, Ledbury, Great Malvern, Worcester Foregate Street, Worcester Parkway, Pershore, Evesham, Moreton-in-Marsh, Oxford and stations to London
  • Institute a dedicated local service from Oxford to Worcester Foregate Street, giving a minimum half-hourly Park & Ride service for Worcester likely supplemented by local buses.
  • Close Shrub Hill and reduce journey times from Worcester Foregate Street to Birmingham

The only real drawback is that there would be a slight (no more than five minutes) increase in journey times for the express and semi-fast services that would have an additional stop due to the new station. And therein lies the problem; somewhere along the line, particularly in the case of Virgin Cross Country, the fundamental measure of quality became the delivery of particular journey times between the top-level settlements with no reference to what lies between them. In places like Stafford, this only manifests itself in trains stupidly passing through at low speed. In Worcester, where provision of an extra stop for the express is the prerequisite for everything else, the result is disastrous.

Service (n.) The fulfilment of arbitrary statistical measures established by a London-based regulator

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