Our phase 1: Windsor
This video illustrates the improvement of the Windsor riverside that is catalysed by the infrastructure, including a park extended by 33% and reconnected with the river, better views of the castle, over 1,000 new car parking spaces, many hundred new homes for local people and more communal facilities such as a cinema – all whilst reducing traffic congestion and CO2
Phase 1 of the Windsor Link Railway will connect Slough to Waterloo via Windsor, with the diagram above illustrating a potential service with four trains per hour.
Future services will extend Crossrail to Windsor, Ascot and Bracknell and link to the north and the south to create an M25 railway
No, Windsor currently has the worst train services of any neighbouring town, measured by frequency, number of seats and destinations served. This is despite being an ancient town with little parking in the centre and despite receiving almost seven million visitors per year.
Almost every tunnel in the Thames Valley is under the water table and many are by rivers. So building a new tunnel (and even a big underground car park) in Windsor is not a particular engineering challenge. We could even use it as an opportunity to improve flood protection for the whole of central Windsor.
No, WLR is a scheme to enhance Windsor, not only by solving its access and transport problems but also to address the somewhat dilapidated areas around the riverside. We think we can do better than having parking and roads everywhere. We hope to be able to restore Alexandra Gardens to its original glory, as shown in this postcard from 1902, enhancing views of the castle and the river. (Click on the image to see larger.) There is also a chronic shortage of parking in Windsor, which makes life difficult for local shops and employers, not to mention residents. Such parking as there is, however, dominates the riverside area does not contribute to its ambiance or to that of Alexandra Gardens. A solution to this would be to put 1,600 or perhaps even 3,200 new spaces under the park (similar to what they have done in Palma). This would have the advantage of raising the park up slightly so that it was better connected with the river and enable Barry Avenue to be grassed over, significantly expanding the park. New buildings, offices or residential, could then replace the surface car parks. If these were in the style of a Georgian terrace it would upgrade Alexandra Gardens to be more like Regent’s Park in London.
Modern civil engineering is considerably more solid than on, say, the Circle Line in London. Also, the line is not expected to be open to the air at any point except the tunnel portals. This, combined with other innovations such as metal impregnated rubber for sleepers, is expected to make total noise disturbance considerably less than today, improving on the tranquillity of the riverside parks and gardens.
Being on a dead end means that it is more expensive for the rail company to serve Windsor. Having two dead ends makes it doubly expensive. Whilst we could in theory increase train services from the existing stations, there is no business case to support this. However, by combining services to Windsor with through traffic, we then have the business case not only to create better services for the region but also for Windsor. WLR’s proposal is for double the frequency of existing trains to both Paddington and Waterloo and a reduction of over 10 minutes in average journey times.
Both existing stations will be preserved but put to new use. This has already effectively happened for the Central Station when it was converted to a shopping centre. Riverside Station would make a beautiful lobby for a hotel, an extension to the school opposite or some other public use and is likely be better preserved than it is today.
None. By joining the lines up rather than the stations and using a tunnel all the listed buildings are preserved. Better still, it creates an opportunity to improve their settings and making the whole riverside area more pleasant.
Most of the work will be at the tunnel portals and it is fortunate that both of these are well away from the main thoroughfares and residential areas. This is not to say that there will be no disruption. Even though Crossrail, for example, was underground surface works were still necessary. That took 3 years for 26 miles of tunnelling. WLR has just 300 yards of tunnel so this part of the construction should take under a year. We are not anticipating that many businesses will need to close or relocate but those that do will be fully compensated. There is no significant loss of business or disruption anticipated to the main trading areas of the town or to tourism generally during construction. Likewise, commuter journeys should be able to continue with at least one station and mostly both stations open at all times. Once complete, of course, trade and other journeys should be significantly improved.
WLR’s proposal is that the additional parking is accessed via a new road in front of the leisure centre. This will drastically relieve some of the most congested and polluted roads in Windsor, such as Arthur Road. It is further proposed to straighten the roads from Datchet, taking it away from the riverside, which will further reduce congestion in the conservation area. This is in addition to the fact that many more people will be able to come to Windsor by train, further reducing congestion. It should also be noted that more parking is not a compulsory element of the scheme and residents may wish to prioritise other things.
The intention is to apply for initial planning permission in 2018. This would be followed by a Development Consent Order in 2020. The earliest that trains would be operational is 2022.
Yes, in theory. All the elements of the scheme are options, not compulsory. However, WLR has been presented as an integrated scheme because all the elements complement each other both in planning policy and politically.
For example, the property helps the railway get started but also makes the property development sustainable. Building several hundred thousand square feet of new accommodation would put a probably unacceptable burden on Windsor’s roads without significant investment in infrastructure. Windsor is already in breach of air quality statutory limits and this would make it worse. Relatively modest proposals for multi-story car parks on Alma Road and the coach park were furiously rejected by residents the last time they were proposed, with one of the largest petitions ever. WLR, by contrast, had a larger petition in its favour.
Yes, doing the railway on its own is an option. Unfortunately, however, there is a very long queue for schemes and Network Rail is struggling to keep up so we would probably wait for decades. Also, having demonstrated the appetite for funding this way, HM Treasury would be unlikely to look kindly on adding to Network Rail’s debt.
Not using the new rail link as an opportunity to improve the Windsor riverside would also be a lost opportunity. When the railways first came to Windsor, they were a catalyst for much that is beautiful in Windsor today, including Thames Street and the Long Walk, the front of the town. We think we can do just as well with back of the town, the riverside and improve the views of the castle. Also, rail links are not the only problem the town faces; we have severe parking and traffic congestion problems. These still need addressing.
The land is currently owned by a variety of owners with the biggest being Network Rail and the council. WLR has an exclusivity agreement with Network Rail with respect to its land in Windsor for purpose of bringing forward the scheme, subject to a development agreement and a public interest test. Depending on the final design, third party sites could also included. These would be by mutual consent where possible or via compulsory purchase. For rail assets this would be via the Transport & Works Act or for a wider regeneration via the Town & County Planning Act. In either case, private owners would be fully compensated at above pre-scheme market rates. Final land ownership would be for negotiation between the parties. For example, the freehold of council land may stay with the council. Network Rail may also choose to buy back the rail infrastructure or it could be owned by a private investment fund such as a pension scheme.
Jim Morgan, when Commercial Director of the Alliance between South West Trains and Network Rail which together operate the railway in this region, said:
I am pleased to be able to confirm that the Windsor Link project has been reviewed by both Network Rail and the South Western Railway and we have concluded that the proposals would provide a worthwhile addition to the rail network. We did not review the costs provided by McAlpine in detail, recognising their expertise in this area, but we did not see any major anomalies.
It should be noted, however, that Network Rail and South West Train’s position is subject to change and, as always, will be based upon the evidence. All parties agree that further work is required before any conclusions could be considered robust.
Even the original railways, which were entirely funded by private capital, needed government permission and policy support to happen. In the case of Windsor, we also need council land because this cannot be compulsory purchased and to help fund the initial development of the railway. The council and government’s return should be many times the cost of its land both in cash terms and, even more so, in social benefit. Also, if the council wishes to use the railway (as it did when the railways were first built) as an opportunity to improve the town more generally then council support will also be necessary to deliver an integrated scheme.
GRIP 2 Report – Coming soonAll these issues and many more are addressed in our GRIP 2 (feasibility) report, which is currently being prepared. This will be published once feedback from stakeholders including local councils, Network Rail, the rail regulator (the ORR) and the Department for Transport has been received.
All comments are gratefully received and you’ll always get a reply.