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Railtrack accused over abandoned WCML 'piggyback' scheme

RAILTRACK WAS accused this week of failing to carry out a proper feasibility study before dropping plans to upgrade the West Coast Main Line for 'piggyback' freight wagons.

The company told ministers last year that the £280M cost meant the upgrade was not viable (NCE 8 October 1998). But speaking to NCE this week, Maunsell Rail technical director Vic Stevens claimed Railtrack had come up with a 'blanket figure' which did not take into account engineering techniques available overseas.

'Railtrack has not invested enough in its feasibility study. It has looked at the route as a whole but I do not believe it has looked at solutions for individual structures,' he said.

Stevens is carrying out a new study for lobby organisation the Rail Freight Group. He claimed tunnel bores could be enlarged at night without having to close the line during peak travel times.

'We are only talking about enlarging the tunnels by 300mm so we could use a tunnelling shield to hold up the face during the day. The main difficulty is in removing the catenary for the work and then restoring it in possession time, but we are working on a method for that,' he said.

He added that additional clearance through bridges and tunnels could be won by using new composite materials to reduce the thickness of electrical insulation blocks.

The RFG claims that Railtrack's preferred plan to increase clearances to the smaller W10 gauge would attract only a niche rail freight market. By comparison, the piggyback gauge would allow 4m high road trailers to be placed directly onto rail wagons and could remove 400,000 lorries a year from the roads.

Railtrack director for network development Robin Gisby said he 'completely rejected' Stevens' claims.

'We have spent a couple of million on our feasibility study and have had our numbers independently verified by a different set of consultants working for the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions,' he said.

Gisby added: 'We have looked at individual structures in detail and I would be very surprised if anyone could come up with a cheaper method. But if there are any truly radically different engineering solutions we would welcome them.'

The RFG is submitting its proposals to the shadow Strategic Rail Authority which is completing a consultation exercise into rail freight next week.

Matthew Jones

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