Modern Railways article
The below article was originally written by Andy Roden, Modern Railways, following an interview with CEO at Sustainable Transport Midlands and Project Executive at Daventry Parkway Project, Harry Burr.
New stations form a substantial proportion of successful Restoring your Railway fund bids, but it is an emerging concept which hasn’t quite reached that stage of development which has won Modern Railways’ attention.
Daventry, a town of 25,000, is reckoned to be one of the largest towns in England without a railway station – the sixth largest town in Northamptonshire – and with development inevitable, that population is set to increase over the next decade.
It once had its own station, on the London & North Western Railway’s route from Weedon on the West Coast main line to Leamington Spa, but this closed to passengers as early as September 1958, with the full route closing at the end of 1963. Development on the formation since renders reinstatement – even if it were economically viable –a non-starter.
However, the town centre is just under 4.5 miles north west of the WCML at Weedon Bec, a village of 2,700 people and growing, linked to Daventry by frequent and fast bus services, and a short drive away. A new non-profit organisation called Sustainable Transport Midlands believes a parkway station on the edge of this village could help to cut road congestion, support planned and future developments in the area and reduce carbon emissions. There are, after all, smaller towns such as Bodmin which benefit from parkway stations: why, it reasons, shouldn’t Daventry also have one?
Key to its ambition is that when High Speed 2 Phase One opens a significant amount of capacity will be released on the WCML. While acknowledging that opening a station to work around current timetables would likely be impossible, STM argues that using some of that released capacity to serve such a sizeable population makes sense.
Passenger flows could be significant and worthwhile, with fast links north to Coventry, Birmingham International (giving Daventry access to the HS2 network) and Birmingham, and to Milton Keynes and London southbound. With the exact service specification on the post- HS2 WCML up for grabs, there is logic behind the concept.
YOUNG HEAD, OLD SHOULDERS
Which is why it’s surprising that it’s 14-year-old Harry Burr of Weedon Bec who has developed the entire initiative to this stage rather than a local authority. He’s thought it through. A two-platform station at Weedon Bec, fully accessible and capable of hosting 12-car trains, would be served by buses (some existing stops would be moved to the station, helping reduce pressure on the village’s high street). With good access from the A45, there would be easy access by car and cycle – as well as by foot, although how many would be willing in this day and age to walk more than four miles to catch a train is perhaps open to question.
His work has been noticed: he has briefed West Northamptonshire Council and gained formal support from it. Bi-monthly meetings are now in the offing. Harry has also liaised extensively with Network Rail and train operators to discuss his concept. Notably, none have said it can’t be done.
He has also talked to consultants, and one, SLC Rail, which designed Worcestershire Parkway station, recently offered him a one-week work placement in which he was able to draw on SLC’s knowledge and apply it to the emerging Daventry Parkway plans. In the longer term, Harry suggests Very Light Rail could be a more sustainable option to connect Daventry with its WCML station.
There is support in Weedon for the station. Research conducted by Harry suggests there would be a shift from road to rail if the station is approved, and that travel to London would be the most important market. Amongst comments made in the survey were ‘My commute by car is pretty awful. Train would be great but needs to be affordable and time-efficient too, which it is currently not [travelling to Long Buckby], so therefore I drive. A local station would be great’. This typifies much local sentiment in the village.
There is, clearly, much detail to be added to these emerging proposals in terms of demand forecasts, timetable options, environmental credentials and so on. But the population numbers look good and existing transport links are relatively poor. In concept, Daventry Parkway looks like a prospect worthy at the very least of worthwhile funding to investigate its potential in detail. With capacity released by HS2, the arguments against the station which would rightly be made today in terms of capacity and journey time impact will be largely negated. Given the time it takes to develop and build new stations, the timing of the proposals appears spot-on in terms of being able to be ready for when that WCML capacity is released.
One of the most important aspects of campaigning is to change perceptions by making a rational, credible case and convincing those with the power to make decisions. From being a vague aspiration in local plans, thanks to Harry’s efforts, Daventry Parkway now looks like a genuinely credible new station with a clear remit, an unserved market and in time a logical operational rationale.
All being well, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris is due to meet Harry later this year. When he does, we suspect he won’t be the first person this young man has briefed who is surprised by the maturity and rationality of his proposals. This project is one to keep an eye on.