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Upgrading the railway: 5 of the UK’s largest rail projects

Written by

Joe Aubrey

Date posted

1 March, 2019

The rail network across the UK is currently seeing major improvement works and massive levels of investment. By upgrading existing lines and creating new ones, it is hoped that the efficiency of services will be improved, local economies will be stimulated, and better service will be offered to customers.

We've put together some details on some of the biggest projects currently underway in the UK, including improvement and upgrade works, such as the Bristol Area Signalling Renewal, to huge new projects, like HS2.


The Great North Rail Project

The Great North Rail Project (GNRP) aims to make improvements to the railway network across the north of England. This large scale project is expected to cost over £13 billion to complete and is expected to be completed by 2022. The aim of this project is to improve the quality of service provided to customers. there are plans for approximately 2,000 more services on the network each week, which will allow over 40,000 more passengers to use the service every day. These changes are expected to reduce the overall journey times, reduce congestion and improve the reliability of the service.

The main focus

The main focus of the upgrades is to bring improvements to West Yorkshire signalling, the Transpennine route, the Liverpool City region and Calder Valley. Improvements will also include a £1 billion investment into the electrification of key routes on the network. Over 300km of the rail network will be improved, creating better connectivity between Manchester, Liverpool, Preston and Blackpool. The electrification programme completed the first stage in December 2013.

A total of £85 million has been spent on the development of a new 300m long bridge that will connect Manchester’s stations, including Victoria, Oxford Road and Piccadilly. This will create a direct link between Manchester Airport and the north of England. The bridge started construction in October 2015 and was completed at the end of 2017.

Route wide upgrades

On top of this development, the project also includes upgrades to many stations. The track and signalling system between Manchester Victoria and Littleborough was improved and a new platform was built at Rochdale station. Bradford Mill Lane and Hebden Bridge stations are being improved, as are signalling systems between Huddersfield and Bradford. A total of six stations in the West Yorkshire area will have signalling improvements.

The Transpennine project will see upgrades to 122km of the rail, 8 tunnels, 13 viaducts and 25 stations. The rail service is expected to see the number of passengers double over the next 20 years. The Liverpool City region will have a £340 million upgrade with the renovation of multiple stations including Liverpool Lime Street and a new Maghull North Station.

This upgrade will allow for three more services to pass through Liverpool Lime Street every hour, with the addition of direct trains to Scotland in 2019. This project began in 2017 and is expected to be complete in 2019.

This huge project will provide many rail jobs in the area. Due to the length of the project, Network Rail has invested in training and resources. The wider regional economy will feel the benefits of the project, resulting in a boost to economic growth regionally and nationally.



Crossrail is the new high-speed railway, also known as the Elizabeth line. This new rail line is 73 miles (88 kilometres) long and will run underneath central London. The line runs from Reading and Heathrow in the west across to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. This new railway will service 41 stations, 10 newly built and 30 upgraded.

With the new railway comes new, state-of-the-art trains that will be able to accommodate up to 1,500 passengers. This new service will see a train running every two and a half minutes during peak hours through central London, and will carry around 200 million passengers each year.

What you can expect

To accommodate the new 200m long trains, major improvements are being made to existing stations.

  • New bright, spacious ticket halls are being built
  • Platforms are being extended to accommodate the new trains
  • New signage, help points and customers information screens are being added.

In addition to existing station upgrades, 10 new stations are being built. Each of the stations will have a distinct design and are made to cope with large numbers of passengers.

The new trains on the Elizabeth line feature air-conditioned walk-through carriages, with dedicated wheelchair spaces and multi-use spaces for buggies, luggage and bicycles. Starting in 2019, the trains will provide free onboard Wi-Fi. Once the new railway is completed there will be a total of 70 trains on the network.

Economic impact

The Elizabeth line is one of the largest construction projects in Europe, with a total investment of £17.4 billion. Due to the size of this project, a total of 15,000 men and women have been employed and over 1,000 apprenticeships have been delivered.

Originally the Crossrail project was planned to be completed in autumn 2018. However, due to significant delays, the project is now not expected to be completed until December 2019.



High Speed 2, also know as HS2, is a high-speed railway which is under construction that will connect London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds and Manchester.  Planning began back in 2009, and in 2013 the government confirmed the route. In 2017, the Royal Assent was granted by Parliament. The first phase of the project is due to be completed in 2026, linking London and Birmingham. The planned budget is a massive £42 billion, and it will create jobs for over 30,000 men and women, as well as 2,000 apprenticeships.

The next phase

In 2021, construction is expected to begin on phase 2a of the project. Phase 2a will connect Birmingham to Manchester. By the end of 2027, the railway is expected to be completed and the service will become available.

Then, in 2024, construction on phase 2b will begin. This part of the line will link Birmingham with Sheffield and Leeds. This is due to be completed by 2033. Further expansion to the line has been hinted at, potentially adding Liverpool, Newcastle and Scotland to the line.

The Green Programme

Due to the size of the project, there are plans for a ‘green programme’.  A total of 7 million trees and shrubs will stretch along both sides of the railway and ‘green bridges’ will be created.



Merseyrail is an existing rail line which is being redeveloped. The aim of the project is to bring in new, state-of-the-art trains in 2020, to replace the existing fleet of trains that have been running on the service for 40 years. The project is expected to cost a total of £460 million and the manufacturer of the new trains has stated that the new fleet will be much safer. The new trains will be able to carry 50% more passengers than the previous trains and will also be faster.

Major service improvements

On top of the introduction of the new trains, there will also be other changes made to the network. There will be refurbishments to create more eco-friendly stations, with the addition of solar panels and smart LED lighting. Also, a brand new station was opened at Maghull North in 2018, increasing the number of stations on the service to 68.

The trains are expected to be ready in summer 2019. There are also plans to potentially run an extended service to other locations,  such as Wrexham and Warrington. With the development of the new trains, each station is being upgraded to accommodate the new fleet, due to finish in June 2019.

Once all improvements are completed, due in Summer 2019, the first new train will join the network and the rest of the fleet will roll-out over a 12 month period. The new trains will be a significant improvement, seeing increased safety, plugs and USBs at every seat, better customer service and security.

Local benefits

Statistics show that this project will stimulate a £70 million economic boost each year, creating 1,000 jobs. The project is expected to be completed in 2021, by which time all the trains will have been replaced and the new timetable will be in operation.


Bristol Area Signalling Renewal

The Bristol Area Signalling Renewal is the redevelopment of Bristol Temple Meads station and the surrounding area. The project will renew all station equipment and transfer signal control over to the Thames Valley Signalling Centre.

Increasing capacity

The first phase of this project was completed at the end of March 2018. The second phase of the project will include double the number of existing train tracks going from Bristol to Filton Abbey Wood. Once the new tracks are installed they will be adding additional trains to the line to decrease the delay period, improve the journey times and increase the total capacity by 24%.

To help with the increase in demand at Bristol Temple Meads station, two new sets of ticket gates will be installed to more than double the capacity of the station. A fourth platform has been added to Filton Abbey Wood station, as well as ramped access to the footbridge.

The second phase of the project is expected to be completed in 2019 and will cost a total of £130 million. There are a variety of benefits provided by this project, such as the creation of more than 500 jobs as well as a boost to the local economy.


We've since published a new up-to-date overview on the UK Rail industry, highlighting the progress made on projects such as Crossrail, HS2 and the Great North Rail project. Feel free to read now on the Coyle Journal! 

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