Feasibility Study: Enhanced Rail Services between Edinburgh and Newcastle


MVA Consultancy was appointed by ScotRail on behalf of Transport Scotland in 2010 to undertake an analysis of a range of potential enhancements to train services on the East Coast Main Line (ECML) between Edinburgh and Newcastle.

The recent context for this study was provided by two key elements:

  • the East Coast Route Utilisation Study (RUS) undertaken by Network Rail in 2008; and
  • the introduction of radical changes to ECML train services via the new 'EUREKA' timetable introduced in May 2011.

The RUS assessed a number of potential enhancements to services on this stretch of line based on three key themes of relevance here:

  • improved local service frequency to Dunbar;
  • new local services between Edinburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed; and
  • new semi-fast services between Edinburgh and Newcastle (Edinburgh - Dunbar - Berwick-upon-Tweed - Alnmouth - Morpeth - Newcastle).

Local services to Dunbar and Berwick-upon-Tweed would also create the opportunity for new stations at East Linton and Reston (Berwick services only), and this has been a long standing aspiration for many years locally. The RUS reported a range of business case outcomes for these alternatives but concluded that the potential for these services should be tested operationally before recommendations could be made.

At present, train services in the area comprise:

  • ScotRail services between Edinburgh and North Berwick (with intermediate stations at Musselburgh, Wallyford, Prestonpans, Longniddry and Drem) providing a commuter service between East Lothian and Edinburgh;
  • less frequent ScotRail services between Dunbar and Edinburgh (direct, with the exception of some trains stopping at Musselburgh), supplementing the ECML-based Dunbar services;
  • Cross Country services between Scotland and the south west / south coast of England (calling at some, or none of Dunbar, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Alnmouth and Morpeth);
  • East Coast services between Scotland and London (calling at some, or none of Dunbar, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Alnmouth and Morpeth); and
  • Northern Rail services between Newcastle and Morpeth / Chathill (calling at Manors, Cramlington, Pegswood, Widdrington, Acklington and Alnmouth).

The services along the line therefore comprise a mix of local / regional, and long distance high speed (LDHS) services in addition to scheduled freight services. The requirement for LDHS services to serve the intermediate stations at Dunbar, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Alnmouth and Morpeth has an impact on the running times achieved by LDHS trains between Edinburgh and Newcastle. Of further interest to this study was therefore the balance of costs and benefits associated with introducing an Edinburgh to Newcastle semi-fast service in conjunction with reduced stopping (and hence potentially faster journey times) on LDHS services between Edinburgh and Newcastle.

Further context comes from the fact that the study area has seen strong growth in rail travel in recent years, and East Lothian in particular is projected to see significant growth in population in the next 20 years. The Scottish Borders and Northumberland are also forecast to see rising population levels, although to a lesser extent than East Lothian. These factors increase pressure on rail services and associated infrastructure, such as the provision of car parking at stations. Most stations car parks along the line are operating at, or beyond capacity.

As such, this study comprised three primary elements:

  • consultation with local stakeholders to determine the scope and scale of aspirations for rail services locally;
  • detailed timetable modelling using industry standard software to identify potential train paths for new services to operate in; and
  • demand forecasting and economic appraisal of the resulting potential service enhancements.

The consultation exercise provided all the key stakeholder groups with an opportunity to express their views and provide inputs in terms of the potential development of rail services in the area, covering both the Scottish and English stretches of the route. It is clear from this exercise that there is strong support for enhanced services in the area across the range of stakeholder groups, including rail user groups, local authorities and elected representatives. At the same time, the existence of LDHS service calls in the area is also highly valued.

The 2011 EUREKA timetable formed the basis of the train path analysis. The May 2011 EUREKA timetable was loaded into the 'RailSys' program and available train paths were identified, ie in addition to those services running from May 2011, which were taken as fixed for the purposes of this exercise. Paths were identified which would allow new services to run on all three variants - ie Edinburgh to Dunbar, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Newcastle. These paths were then used as the basis of a Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) compliant economic analysis to determine whether the introduction of these services would provide value for money and meet the wider Scottish Government Objectives. The main elements of this appraisal are:

  • the cost of running additional train services (provided by ScotRail) and constructing new railway stations;
  • the train revenues generated by these additional services;
  • the benefits to the travelling public delivered in terms of faster journeys; and
  • other wider quantifiable impacts on eg reducing traffic congestion.

These factors are taken together and assessed over a discounted 60-year period to provide a benefits cost ratio (BCR) as the key measure of value for money for the scheme.

The industry standard 'MOIRA' software was used to forecast changes in patronage and revenue resulting from the introduction of enhanced rail services.

The methodology used in the earlier RUS study was adopted here to maintain broad consistency with this key study. Potential new stations were considered separately. The main findings are discussed below.

Local Services to Dunbar / Berwick

A significant number of new train paths were identified between Edinburgh and Dunbar / Berwick-upon-Tweed, and those which could be operated within existing infrastructure were identified in the analysis.

The introduction of new train services between Edinburgh and Dunbar and Edinburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed both resulted in a BCR of less than one, ie the benefits and revenues derived from the services were not sufficient to outweigh the operating costs of the new trains, even including the benefits derived from the increase in frequency at other stations in East Lothian (between Musselburgh and Drem).

The BCRs for Dunbar services are significantly higher than for Berwick however. This is because the journey time on the stopping service from Berwick to Edinburgh is unattractive compared to existing LDHS services from Berwick, meaning the benefits of running stopping trains to Berwick are small and operating costs in this case are far higher.

Seen over a 60 year period, the cost of constructing rural railway stations and their associated infrastructure is small. New stations also generate a 60-year benefit stream from new and displaced rail users. As such, the analysis here shows that constructing and operating East Linton and / or Reston stations in association with new train services improves the relevant business case. Both stations are supported within the relevant Local Plans with appropriate provisions made.

East Linton would have a catchment area limited largely to the settlement itself, as it would not form the nearest station for any other significant East Lothian settlement. At present, rail users from East Linton generally drive to Drem and a high proportion of local residents work in the Edinburgh area.

Reston on the other hand would have a very small 'walk in' catchment but a wider local catchment including the settlements of Ayton, Chirnside, Coldingham, Duns and Eyemouth. The distances from Edinburgh mean that a very low proportion of local residents currently work in the Edinburgh area, although this could clearly change with the introduction of regular train services.

The addition of East Linton station to the new Dunbar services does result in a small positive BCR overall. In the case of Berwick services, both East Linton and Reston stations are required in conjunction with the new services to produce a small positive BCR - either of the stations on their own are not sufficient. However, these findings are very sensitive to some of the assumptions used in the appraisal. Sensitivity tests have shown that small changes in these assumptions are enough to reduce both these BCRs to values of less than one. This illustrates that the case for these services and stations is slightly positive but vulnerable to small changes.

Edinburgh Newcastle Semi-Fast

The introduction of an Edinburgh to Newcastle semi-fast service on top of the current services also returns a poor BCR and does not represent good value for money. Operating costs are high given the length of the route and benefits are not significant, given the existence of 'competing' LDHS services. Nevertheless the service does improve connectivity significantly between the Northumberland towns and this would be of benefit to these communities.

The introduction of a semi-fast service could be a means to displace some Northern Rail services to Morpeth as there would be an element of duplication. This would however have a negative impact at Cramlington in particular, which would lose some services. Analysis has suggested that the lower net train operating costs associated with displacing a proportion of these train services does improve the BCR, but not significantly.

Benefits can however be generated by reducing LDHS service calls at Dunbar, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Alnmouth and Morpeth, if this was to result in faster journey times between Edinburgh and Newcastle, and hence Scotland and London in particular - improving competitiveness with air travel in particular. In this case, it is the balance between benefits to through travellers and disbenefits to those using these regional stations (ie those who may now have to transfer to access LDHS services) which determines the overall picture. Tests were undertaken to investigate this balance and it was found that a strong BCR could result from a combination of reduced calling at intermediate stations, together with a journey time saving to LDHS services, and the introduction of an Edinburgh to Newcastle semi-fast service. The downstream practicality of sustaining these journey time savings within the timetable would require confirmation however.