Chase for electric brings success - Chase line to be electrified

In October 2009 I posted on the retention of improved half-hourly services on the Chase Line running between Bloxwich and Rugeley following discussions between Centro and London Midland, Keeping Chase.  The retention of improved services followed a breakdown in discussions between the Department for Transport, regional transport authority Centro and train operator London Midland since the introduction of improved services in December 2008.

The line which reopened in 1989 serving Bloxwich, Bloxwich North, Landywood, Cannock, Hednesford and Rugeley Town has seen long term ambitions for electrification to improve line speeds and capacity.

The local council, Cannock Chase Council, have been vociferous campaigners for electrification, noting passenger growth on the Cannock-Walsall corridor between 2005-7 of 19.1% and the opportunity electrification would bring to securing more frequent and faster services as well as restoration of through services to Stafford and new inter regional services to the north-west,

July 16 saw plans announced by the government at a train depot in Smethwick for a £9bn national programme of investment, which while delivering significant improvements such as the Midland Mainline electrification from Bedford to Sheffield and improvements to rail services around Manchester for it's northern hub, saw the announcement of the 25 kv AC overhead  electrification of the Cannock Line, electrification of the Nuneaton-Coventry-Leamington Spa-Oxford route and the capacity for an extra 3,900 daily peak time commutes into Birmingham,

image reproduced from:

The capacity increase into Birmingham will be delivered through the following improvements as reproduced from the Illustrative Option schemes in CP5 HLOS including the electrification of the Chase Line,, which will be delivered in the 2014-19 funding period.

New Street (West Coast) Full use of 11-car Pendolino trains. Deployment of peak capacity as determined by new franchise.

New Street (London Midland) Cross City South extended to Bromsgrove. Rugeley - Walsall (Chase Line) electrified and integrated service with New Street. Peak train lengthening with additional electric units. Opportunity for revised electric suburban route linkages across New Street not developed.

New Street (Cross Country) Small amount of peak train lengthening with additional diesel carriages.

Snow Hill and Moor Street (London Midland) Peak train lengthening with additional diesel carriages.

The announcement of the electrification of the Chase Line follows the speed upgrade from 45 mph to 75 mph on the line announced in the Chancellor's autumn statement and the tireless work of successive MPs and local campaigners.  Current Cannock MP Aiden Burley raised the matter in Parliament on 14 June noting the 1,300 new jobs and gross value added of £113 million the electrification of the 15 mile route would bring with a cost of only £30 million and the need for only two bridges to be slightly modified, in contrast to the £530 million the Midland Mainline electrification will cost.  The route would also offer a second electrified route to Birmingham from the North West helping to relieve congestion passing through Wolverhampton and offering new routes locally and regionally.

A recent report of 25 June,  Rail Service Enhancements 25 June 2012to the Centro Integrated Transport Authority 25 June 2012 meeting looked at the continued funding of Chase Line rail services from December 2012.  it noted that usage of the midweek off-peak service had been poor and had led to its withdrawal the saturday service showed increased passenger revenue and a decision was made to continue the service in 2011 and 2012.

The report shows the value of the route to London Midland with revenue increasing by approximately 45% between 2009 and 2012 on the rail service enhancements.  The table below reproduced from the report shows the revenue figures for the previous three years and forecasts for 2012 to 2014 assuming patronage growth of 5% per annum and fare increases in line with DfT policy, Rail Service Enhancements 25 June 2012.

Revenue (£)
%   increase
from 2009


The Office of Rail Regulation published its latest station usage figures in February 2011 based on ticket sales in the financial year 2009-10. These also show an upward trend, with stations between Birmingham, Walsall and Rugeley experiencing an average 7.2% year on year growth (based on data from Witton to Rugeley Town inclusive). This equates to approximately 158,980 additional entries and exits at stations.
Rail Service Enhancements 25 June 2012  

It's clear that the electrification was a 'no-brainer' and should provide significant benefits to the local Cannock Chase economy, and to the wider Greater Birmingham area with increased opportunities for journeys into Birmingham.

The following excerpt from Hansard of the debate of 14 June 2012 highlights the importance of the electrification of the route which has one of the highest passenger growth figures in the West Midlands.

Increased passenger growth of 10% per annum or more has been achieved in recent years. Over half a million passenger journeys a year are now made just from the three stations in my constituency. The Chase line now has the second highest levels of passenger growth in the Centro area. Yet despite that, the route has seen a reduction in services and shorter trains, most recently last December through the service level commitment changes, as a direct result of a shortage of diesel trains. That is because the Chase line is the only Centro route operating out of Birmingham New Street where diesel trains have to operate. That has resulted in an inefficient mix of diesel and electric services between Birmingham and Walsall, in order for diesel trains to operate north of Walsall on the non-electrified section to Rugeley. Therefore, in spite of having one of the highest annual passenger growth figures in the west midlands, passenger services on the route had to be reduced from December 2011 as a direct result of it not being possible to operate the whole Birmingham-Walsall-Rugeley service with electric trains and the need to transfer scarce diesel rolling stock to provide capacity on other routes.

The situation is predicted to get even worse. From 2013, the Chase line will have the lowest service frequency of any suburban route radiating from Birmingham and yet still have one of the highest passenger growths. So I say to the Minister that we urgently need to address this contradiction of passenger growth and reduced services, and the only solution is the electrification of the Chase line. That must be included in CP5.

The announcement of the £4.2 billion rail schemes comes on top of the £5.2 billion of already announced projects although there will not be an immediate start on improvement projects that the announcement suggests with new developments being added to existing projects scheduled for the 2014-19 funding period.  The announcements however  welcome,  following over 45 years of lobbying for the Walsall - Rugeley line for example, make notable omissions that would have provided significant improvements to the Greater Birmingham area.  Recent lobbying to open stations in Kings Heath and Moseley and the construction of Chords to allow services to access Moor Street Station, No stop for Moseley, seem to have been ignored as has plans for the reinstatement of the Walsall to Stourbridge line.

“The electrification of the Chase line, first mooted in the 1960s, is long overdue and has the potential to provide a great fillip for the region by improving journey times and enhancing capacity.

“While we appreciate that the £9 billion is for the entire country and that not all of the schemes have been announced, we feel that the Greater Birmingham area should have seen more investment.

“In particular the Chamber was disappointed to see no mention of the Walsall- Stourbridge line re-opening or Snow Hill capacity enhancements.”


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