Improving rail services

Improvements include greater reliability, more regular services and more seats

Improvements to rail services include:

  • new, refurbished trains and more carriages
  • faster journey times
  • improved reliability
  • more frequent services
  • standard-pattern ('clockface') services offering well-timed connections
  • direct services to more destinations

Unfortunately some of these can conflict with each other. Stopping more trains at your local station can mean delaying people wanting to pass straight through. Sometimes options can help everyone, such as electrification, which can make services more reliable and faster, not to mention less polluting. Other options may mean some winners and losers, for example splitting services on a line into some that call at all stations and others that are limited stop expresses. It’s also worth considering the needs of rail freight as everyone benefits from getting lorries off our roads - see the managing freight and lorries section.

Improvements to passenger services may be:

  • part of a franchise commitment of an existing train operator
  • a specific measure planned and funded nationally as part of the five yearly High Level Output Statement (HLOS) setting out investment in railway infrastructure  - the next one is due in 2017
  • possible through a mix of investment sources, such as your Local Transport Plan, local transport board, Community Infrastructure Levy, a national rail fund (see HLOS) and/or something you could persuade your train operator to invest in, particularly if it has already been identified in a Route Utilisation Strategy
  • a proposition for an Open Access Operator - for example, the TransWilts Community Rail Partnership is considering this as an option to provide regular direct services between Swindon and Salisbury in case this is not included in the new franchise


You will need to see how your proposal fits with with these and it may require long-term lobbying to get. As the step-by-step section explains, you may well need professional reports to back up calls for these measures because there may be particular technical constraints (or at least there may be claims that there are) that preclude what you are calling for. It is also worth looking at the finding funding section.

In some cases significant improvements to services will require engineering measures. These will generally not need planning permission as they will be covered by Permitted Development Rights. They include:

  • passing loops - allow trains to pass each other, whether in same or opposing direction
  • double tracking - adding extra tracks, particularly for lines that were singled as a cost saving measure
  • longer platforms - to allow more carriages to run
  • line speed improvements - such as tackling speed restrictions over weak bridges
  • signalling improvements - such as upgrading old-fashioned signalling or simply adding a new signal at a particular point to allow extra stops at a station
  • electrification - reduces the operating cost and allows faster acceleration, particularly of stopping trains, so there is less chance of holding non-stopping trains up


You may find that some of these measures have already been considered but that experts have considered that there is not a good enough case, financial or otherwise to proceed. Don’t think that this should be the end of the matter as there may be a number of reasons why they are wrong:

  • there have been significant changes to official guidance on how to value transport projects since 2008 and these can drastically improve the case for sustainable options like rail - see Decision-making for sustainable travel (pdf)
  • rail has been growingfar more than official forecasts predicted and this has been a particular issue for rail reopenings
  • ‘soft’ measures, such as travel plans and promotion, can improve the attractiveness of rail further
  • housing or other development may be proposed that would significantly increase the number of potential rail passengers

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