The Windsor & Eton Express this week splashes on the ‘commuter misery as signals upgrade is dogged by problems’.

On Wednesday, First Great Western managing director Mark Hopwood issued an apology and assured passengers it was working to reduce the likelihood of the problems happening again… The troubles continued yesterday (Thursday) when travellers faced a 45 minute wait between Reading and Paddington during the morning rush hour because of yet more signalling problems.

The BBC has also reported Network Rail to be “sorry for signal failure ‘disaster zone’ at Slough”.

It doesn’t have to be this way

The trouble with the rail network between Reading and Slough is that it is just one long single point of failure.  This week it wasn’t just signalling problems but also a broken down train and an accident:

The solution to this is not to pour ever more money into the Great Western Line, which is Network Rail’s current approach. Not only does this inevitably make tickets more expensive it is actually likely actually to make things worse; the higher loading, especially post Crossrail, will reduce recovery time for the network leading to even greater delays when things go wrong, which will happen more often due to higher complexity.

What should be done is that the network should be given greater diversity. That is, rather than funnelling all services through a single line, customers should have more choice from more varied routes. For example, the Windsor Link Railway phase 2 will connect Staines to Heathrow. This is not only great for travellers from there but also provides an alternative route from Reading to Paddington if there is a problem on the Great Western line. Likewise, phase 1 of WLR will provide an alternative fast route to London from Slough and Windsor if there are problems entering Paddington. Again, this would not only be great for residents on a daily basis but provide a more resilient network, better able to cope with problems and with better choices for travellers.

A further benefit from this approach is that living in town centres becomes more practical because there are more journey options, rather than just in and out of London. This in turn helps High Streets and regeneration from places as diverse as Slough and Ascot.