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West Coast Main Line upgrade set to go ahead

THE £2.1bn UPGRADE of the West Coast Main Line looks certain to go ahead after the Rail Regulator this week gave the proposed funding deal between Railtrack and Virgin his qualified backing.

Regulator John Swift told Railtrack that there were aspects of the track operator's approach he was not yet happy with. But he added: 'Delaying or declining approval of the agreement would not be an effective way of securing the provision of an adequate overall strategy for the West Coast Main Line'.

Under the deal, Railtrack will share profits with train operator Virgin once new track and signalling infrastructure is in place, allowing high- speed tilting trains to travel from London to Manchester in one hour 45 minutes (NCE 19 February).

However, Swift said that it was 'a matter of considerable concern' that Railtrack's plans for the WCML did not satisfy the requirements of other passenger and freight operators or funding bodies.

He has set down a number of new conditions for Railtrack to comply with its Network Licence agreement. These include extra capacity for freight in the West Midlands and between Euston and Northampton. Railtrack has until 16 April to respond to the demands. Work on the upgrade is due to start in the autumn.

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