Overhead view of Carstairs Junction showing the tingle of lines connecting Glasgow, Edinburgh and Carlisle

Crucial rail junction in Scotland to close till mid-summer

Carstairs Aerial from south (Network Rail)Image Network Rail

Carstairs, where the West Coast Main Line branches to both Glasgow and Edinburgh, will close from this weekend for extensive remodelling. Scotland’s Railway, the authority in Scotland that works in partnership with infrastructure agency Network Rail, will begin the next phase of a project designed to increase capacity at the critical location. The junction, which is already busy, will eventually handle HS2 Anglo-Scottish services.

A freight loop is one of the biggest coming up at Carstairs. From this coming Saturday (4 March), the major engineering works will disrupt traffic on the West Coast Main Line until the middle of summer. The work is the latest and most disruptive phase of the Carstairs Junction Remodelling project. Passengers will face most of the disruption, but freight services are not immune. The junction is the most direct access to a number of terminals in Central Scotland. Works continue until 4 June.

Beat HS2 at walking pace

Ever since the track layout at Carstairs was rationalised in the mid-1980s, any extensive work has been disruptive. Removing the fast ‘avoiding’ lines may have made electrification financially viable but has left a legacy of – one day – forcing a long-term closure for renewals. That day comes this weekend. Preparations have been underway for almost a year, and the work will take a further year to complete, but the bulk of the heavy lifting will be over the next few months.

Ground level view of Carstairs Junction showing rails and wires
Ground-level view of Carstairs Junction showing rails and wires (Network Rail – Scotland’s Railway)

Project managers say that renewed track, signalling and overhead electrification will improve punctuality and infrastructure reliability. They also expect line speeds for West Coast Main Line traffic to be improved – particularly for Edinburgh services. At present, traffic using the east side of the junction has to slow down to walking pace – which, if not improved, will offer vigorous walkers a short opportunity to outpace a high-speed train. Although Britain’s high-speed railway project will not reach this far north, in terms of new infrastructure, HS2 trains will traverse the West Coast Main Line to reach Glasgow and Edinburgh via Carstairs.

Obvious alternative not available since 1969

The inclusion of a new freight loop has been welcomed. The loop says Scotland’s Railway, the biggest freight loop in Scotland. When complete, this will be capable of holding a train 775 metres long. It’s hoped that this is a minimum capacity and that other freight loops in Scotland will be able to handle standard maximum-length freight trains.

Graphic of Carstairs Junction
Graphic of Carstairs Junction (Scotland’s Railway)

Since most of the work will take place at night, there is the potential for freight to be disproportionately affected. Alternatives exist via a non-electrified line through southwest Scotland or by re-routing via the East Coast Main Line. Vociferous campaigners have been at pains to point out that the obvious alternative direct route between Carlisle and Edinburgh, known as the Waverley Route, would alleviate all cross-border problems. Unfortunately, that line was dismantled in the 1960s, and they have yet to be successful in lobbying for full restoration.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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