The decision by Railtrack to abandon plans to upgrade the West Coast Main Line to carry piggy back traffic was inevitable, since a quart will not fit into a pint pot. Unfortunately I believe that the wrong project has been abandoned. The upgrading to 225km/h in some places should have been abandoned, leaving the WCML to accommodate more freight and regional passenger trains.
The French, Germans and Japanese made the right choice to build new high speed passenger railways to gain quantum improvements in train times. A TGV between London and Manchester would take 1hr 10mins, rather than the 1hr 50mins promised after PUG2, if that can be financed.
This is why we made the decision at Liverpool John Moores University in 1996 to begin a four year design project for an affordable new high speed railway between London and the North West. We have shown that in principle it should be possible to build a new railway between London and the North West for 320km/h running for less than pounds2,000M.
This 300km long line would be very good value for money compared to the 120km long Channel Tunnel Rail Link. It might even be affordable on a commercial basis, with train operators paying typically about a pounds1,000 toll per trip between London and the North West to reward the investment.
Instead of wasting millions in a band aid exercise on the WCML, much better value for money would come from a new high speed line. The work we are doing at LJMU shows the way to a new generation of civil engineering projects, which are sustainable and socially constructive by diverting significant inter-city car and air traffic.
In the matter of politics, English Welsh & Scottish Railway's Burkhart is no match for Virgin's Branson in the publicity stakes. We need both faster passenger services and more freight on our railways. Unfortunately both cannot be achieved in a geometrically and capacity restrained WCML.
Lewis Lesley (M), professor of transport science, Liverpool John Moores University, School of the Built Environment, 98 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool L3 5UZ.
If there was only one route on the WCML, the case for not mixing passengers and freight might make some sense. But it is actually a network, with up to three parallel routes. The issue is which bits of that network need high line speeds, and which need high loading gauges. Of course there are difficulties, starting with the speed constraints of tight curves in the Birmingham and Manchester areas, but it would be foolish to send the freight to the city centres and the passengers to Lichfield and Wigan.
Alternatively use the only line in the country that was built to use 'c' gauge (the old Great Central Line) for the freight. We could then have road/rail interchanges near two key road nodes: the M1/M6 junction, and the M6/M62 junction.
The big problem is that it is difficult to construct business cases for such flights of fancy until the engineering work has been completed. And as a nation we have a noble track record of such projects bankrupting the original promoter, before someone else makes money out of it.
DW Taylor, 4 York Road, Pewsey, SN9 6BQ.