London Waterloo, Britain’s busiest rail terminus, could get a 25 percent boost in platform capacity as train company Stagecoach Group Plc (SGC) seeks to revive facilities mothballed since Eurostar Group Ltd. ended services in 2007.
Stagecoach’s South West Trains, the sole operator at Waterloo since Channel Tunnel expresses moved three miles north to a rebuilt St Pancras hub, is aiming to simplify the relaying of track needed to link the five platforms with domestic routes.
Waterloo, which serves a swathe of southern England including the original Surrey “stockbroker belt,” is operating close to capacity after attracting 100 million passengers in the year through April 2012. An agreement to expedite links to the extra platforms is likely to be secured via Stagecoach’s accord with Network Rail Ltd., which manages Britain’s rail tracks and major stations, Chief Executive Officer Martin Griffiths said.
“There are 1,800 train movements in and out of Waterloo each day, so opening up the old international platforms isn’t easy,” Griffiths said in an interview. “But I’m quite confident that there’s a plan near that could see it delivered without the complexity that has been the working assumption for many years.”
The two-year temporary alliance with Network Rail could be extended and deepened, with upgrades at Waterloo incorporated in a revised franchise under which South West Trains would serve the station through 2019, the CEO, without providing details.
With 19 working platforms in addition to the former Eurostar facilities, which were served by lines that crossed over the domestic tracks via a bridge before heading toward the link to the Channel Tunnel, revamping the station’s approaches is likely to be both costly and disruptive to timetables.
“It’s a complicated matrix of track,” Griffiths said. “But we’re very tight for capacity and we need to see it.”
Stagecoach’s accord with Network Rail is unique in Britain, where train operating companies have been kept separate from infrastructure work since the industry’s privatization in the 1990s. Griffiths said the relationship has led to “joined up management” and operational improvements and should be broadened to include capital projects, not just day-to-day maintenance.
Waterloo’s platform 20, one of those served by Eurostar, is adjacent to the main station and should be linked to the network next year, Griffiths said. Trains will most likely run to Windsor in the Thames Valley, according to Network Rail, which said it’s also working on the “challenge” of incorporating platforms 21 to 24 to add capacity at a station with one-quarter more passengers than its nearest challenger, London Victoria.
The potential gain in platforms won’t translate directly into a 25 percent traffic boost, since the ability of trains to access Waterloo is ultimately governed by the number that can clear the terminus’s neck, the pinch-point before tracks divide to enter the station, at any one time, Network Rail said.
Stagecoach shares rose as much as 5.3 percent, the most in six months, and were trading 3.9 percent higher at 311.30 pence as of 2:18 p.m. in London after the Perth, Scotland company said pretax profit rose 8 percent to 219 million pounds ($336 million) in the 12 months ended April 30, excluding items.
Earnings from Richard Branson’s Virgin Rail Group, in which Stagecoach has a 49 percent stake, fell 38 percent to 9.8 million pounds after tax as sales rose 2.8 percent, according to a statement. That implies a profit for Virgin Trains as a whole of almost 20 million pounds, and revenue of 901 million pounds.
Griffiths said margins at Virgin Rail have been clipped since it began operating the London-Scotland West Coast franchise under a simplified management contract in December, earning a fee equal to 1 percent of sales. Virgin is in talks with the U.K. Department for Transport to agree more lucrative terms for the period through 2017, while taking on greater risk.
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