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WCML upgrade faces axe over cost

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RAILTRACK WAS this week under pressure to scrap the second stage of the West Coast Main Line upgrade.

Spiralling costs and questions over the benefit to passengers and freight have led to calls for the second stage of the project, passenger upgrade 2 (PUG2), to be abandoned.

The West Coast Route Modernisation started in 1999 and is a full scale upgrade of Europe's busiest line.

Work includes track renewal, junction remodelling, overhead power line renewal and a new signalling system, all of which will increase line speed and capacity.

Completion of the first stage, PUG1, is programmed for next year and will allow Virgin's new Pendolino tilting train fleet to travel at up to 200km/hr. PUG 2, with a programmed completion for 2005, will take line speed up to 225km/hr.

The original cost of the project was put at£2.2bn, but Railtrack's latest estimate has risen to £6.3bn. Some sources now suggest the final figure could be £9bn.

Lord Berkeley, chairman of the Rail Freight Group, this week urged the government to stop investment and abandon PUG2.

He wants the money used to develop a new high speed passenger line.

He feels the full upgrade cost will spiral out of control and cause years of disruption and delays. 'Apart from Virgin customers, ' he added, 'it will create much reduced capacity for all other users of the line, both passengers and freight'.

Institution of Civil Engineers chief executive Mike Casebourne also questioned the benefits of PUG2. He felt that adding an extra 24km/hr to WCML train speeds under PUG2 did not justify an estimated extra £2bn investment.

Trains would only be able to travel at such speeds on certain sections of the route anyway, he pointed out. Casebourne felt that passengers would prefer reliability to high speed.

Railtrack said it remained committed to ensuring that the upgrade continued.

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