This page is a summary of the strategic case, with headings as defined by the Department for Transport, for the Windsor Link Railway (phase 1, linking Slough to Staines and Waterloo via Windsor). For more details please contact us.
The Windsor Link Railway idea is promoted by a privately owned company, the Windsor Link Railway Ltd. This is a for-profit company with the mission of improving transport in the UK, enhancing our environment and creating economic growth, whilst reducing costs for taxpayers and travellers alike. In this it aims to be a pilot of a new model for infrastructure procurement that could be applied to across the UK.
The Windsor Link Railway (phase 1) aims to help the region of East Berkshire and south London.
The transport problems facing the south-east region are well rehearsed as the population has grown strongly in recent decades but transport infrastructure has not kept pace. The railways of the region were built when the region was mostly rural. In common with many other areas around London, connections to and from the capital are relatively easy whilst orbital connections are more difficult.
Windsor sits on the historic dividing line between two of the original rail regions and unlike some other towns the initial problem of these companies not wanting to recognise each other has not been subsequently corrected. The result is that Windsor has two stations but each with low utilisation which not only serves the town badly but also acts as a barrier for people wanting to get around the region.
Whilst road infrastructure, such as the M4 is over-capacity for most of the day, some rail infrastructure in the region is curiously under-utilised. Examples of this are the two branch lines to Windsor, one from Slough and the other from Staines. With further road building becoming increasingly difficult politically and undesirable from an environmental point-of-view, making better use of existing rail assets makes sense.
Many of the region’s towns have high commuter flows when it be desirable if more people could live and work in the same area. Solving some of the structural problems that prevent businesses basing themselves in, say, Windsor or people living in central Maidenhead would reduce the pressure on transport.
Windsor is also England’s most visited tourist attraction outside of London. However, it is impractical to reach by train from many of the tourist areas in London (e.g. Victoria) and for this reason 80% of tourists currently travel by road. This is not only detrimental to the environment but as they are often rushed off by coach companies to other destinations it reduces the amount tourists spend when visiting.
The area around Heathrow suffers from poor air-quality, not all of which is caused by airplanes. It is due to over-crowded roads and vehicles which are not moving typically produce much more CO2 and other pollutants.
As well as a growing population, the area has many beautiful natural features, including the River Thames and the Great Park, and Green Belt which need to be preserved or ideally enhanced.
The region is an economic power-house and has become so in large part due to good transport links, the original railway to Bristol, Heathrow and the M4 and M25. However, much of this infrastructure is at or near capacity. If the region is to continue to contribute to the UK’s growth then this must be solved and transport is the top threat to this region, and the UK’s, economic success.
The region also suffers from an acute shortage of housing, particularly affordable homes. However, there are large areas of poorly-utilised brownfield sites near the identified rail lines and developing these would not only address social and environmental issues but also be an important contribution to economic growth through new house building.
There is also an opportunity to address social deprivation in areas such as Chalvey which despite the potentially great transport links suffer from ingrained problems.
In common with many other towns there is an urgent need to attract employers to both Windsor and Maidenhead, to reverse the exodus of recent years, and to provide them with adequate transport facilities (including parking).
The region of East Berkshire is not just an area on the map; it is also peoples’ homes. It is important therefore not just to think of the statistics for growth and air quality etc. but also from the perspective of individual towns, to ensure that the benefits are shared equally. More detail on some of the region’s towns can be found at www.windsorlink.co.uk/why/for-my-area.
Transport infrastructure, such as the M4, being overwhelmed is the most critical threat to the growth of the region and, because it is such an economically important region, to the UK as a whole.
The region would continue to miss EU air-quality targets.
Foreign companies, a large number of which base themselves near Heathrow, would increasingly look for alternative locations or countries.
Population growth is the primary driver for change. Other drivers include the need for infrastructure to keep pace with economic growth, with which it is strongly correlated.
Government policy is to invest in transport infrastructure to stimulate economic growth and to meet CO2 targets. The WLR project by being privately promoted adds another driver in that with stock market and bond yields so low pension funds need a long-term but low-risk investment with reasonable returns. If this is allowed to go ahead then not only would the UK benefit from more investment than could be supported by government alone but also pensioners would benefit from higher and more secure returns.
Phase 1 of the Windsor Link Railway is quite simple: it is to build an additional 300 metres or rail, linking the two lines into Windsor and providing for at least 4 trains per hour in each direction. This should be done without requiring taxpayer subsidy either for the build or for subsequent operation.
The measure for success is that private investors make an acceptable rate of return sufficient for them to consider investing in other projects to the benefit of the UK.
The other key success criterion for the project is ‘everyone benefits’. This means that improvements to one stakeholder or interest group must not come at the detriment of another. In this, the WLR hopes to learn from the failure of the Airtrack project. This project only looked at the narrow interests of BAA and airport users. BAA neglected to consider the needs of its neighbours and as a result thought that improvements in travel time to the airport were acceptable even if they destroyed the traffic flow in neighbouring towns such as Staines. This is also a mistake that is being repeated by Slough Borough Council with their WRAtH project. By contrast, the WLR seeks to ensure that every town and community that it touches – without exception – gains a measurable net benefit from the project including in quality of life, environmentally and economically.
Phase 1 of the Windsor Link Railway is for connection between Slough and Staines only, an extension of the existing Waterloo to Windsor Riverside service through to Slough and an additional service, making four trains per hour. Obviously, once the tunnel through Windsor is built many other services become possible, linking a wider range of towns. However, these are out-of-scope of phase 1.
Also out-of-scope of phase 1 is a connection to Heathrow. This is phase 2 of the Windsor Link Railway. Whilst phase 1 is a building block towards phase 2, the latter phase has an independent business case. This is important for reducing project risk by minimising inter-dependencies.
This project has not been allocated funding in the recent announcements by the government. However, the Department for Transport has indicated that it is within policy. Additionally, initial revenue forecasting suggests that the project should be easily fundable by private sources, given its unusually high rate-of-return.
The project will need planning permission, most likely via a Transport and Works Act process. The needs of stakeholders, especially of local residents will need to be taken into account. However, as the proposed new rail alignment is quite short (less than one mile long including 300 yards of tunnelling) and hugs the existing viaduct for much of its route and is underground when it travels through the town and even then is away from most of the residential houses, the objections are likely to be manageable.
Although a relatively short tunnel (less than 300 metres) is required to connect the two lines together, this is not without its technical challenges as the new line will have to be built without damage to existing buildings.
Phase 1 of the WLR has been designed to be independent of all other rail projects currently proposed. It also uses spare capacity on the network that is not ear-marked for any other purpose and which has virtually no other likely purpose (this has been confirmed by Network Rail).
The project adds value to other schemes which have either been proposed or are being built, such as Crossrail and a westerly rail link to Heathrow. However, it is not dependent on any of these being completed.
The project is not dependent on whether Heathrow stays as the UK’s main hub airport or if it is closed or extended with additional runways.
The current proposed scheme does assume that the current Waterloo to Windsor service stays as currently timetabled. Changes to this may change the benefit to cost ratio but would not alter the underlying viability.
Key stakeholders for this project in addition to the private investors are:
All the above have been consulted and the response have varied between no immediate objection to very favourable. The project is still at an early stage and no formal plans have been submitted so the formal responses will clearly be conditional on more detail.
The project has appeared many times prominently in local newspapers again to generally positive responses from local residents and a formal consultation is planned. Over 100 local business, big and small, have also written to the DfT in support of the project. This has been mirrored by local MPs from both Windsor and surrounding constituencies who have written letters to the DfT on behalf of WLR.
As indicated above, phase 1 of the WLR is relatively simple and constrained by the buildings of the town and the need to connect up with existing track, meaning that there is little flexibility over the alignment of the new track.
There is, however, considerable flexibility of what is put around the new railway. There is the option of not only a new station at Chalvey but a transport interchange with the M4 motorway, greatly reducing pressure on roads into both Slough and Windsor. There is the option of using the railway as an opportunity to improve the visual appearance of the riverside area of Windsor, which is surprisingly dilapidated. Windsor could also benefit from a rationalisation of how the roads are configured and has a desperate need for more parking and community facilities such as a cinema or better shopping facilities. Depending on how the scheme is ultimately financed these may or may not be considered as part of phase 1 of the project. Phase 2 has a number of route options and these are described here.