Want to pay your respects to Her Majesty? Catch the rail-replacement bus or get on your bike. Well-wishers heading to London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in early June could find their travel plans scuppered by intensive engineering work across the rail network.
The centrepiece of the celebrations over the extended weekend is the River Pageant on Sunday, 3 June – which is also the day when the delays and diversions are at their worst.
The most serious disruption is on Britain’s busiest railway, the West Coast main line, on which a decade-long modernisation project finished in 2008. Journey times between London and Liverpool will be doubled. The first departure from the Mersey to the Thames involves a bus, followed by two connecting trains, and does not arrive in the capital until the afternoon.
The link from Wolverhampton to Birmingham is severed, with a bus replacement increasing average journey times to the capital by 90 minutes. All Glasgow-London passengers are being routed via the East Coast main line, though no extra trains will run. Some London-bound passengers from Carlisle are being asked to catch a bus to Haltwhistle beside Hadrian’s Wall, change to a local train to Newcastle and travel onwards on East Coast Trains.
Some journey times between intermediate stations on the West Coast main line will be trebled. The first departure from Carlisle to Wolverhampton - normally a direct trip of less than two-and-a-half hours – involves a bus to Appleby and trains via Leeds and Birmingham. The seven-and-a-half-hour trip works out at an average speed of 30mph, rather than 90mph. Passengers on the first Manchester Piccadilly to Windermere service of the day will travel even more slowly, taking a bus to Preston, where there is a two-hour wait, then another bus to Oxenholme and finally a train to the Lakes. The journey takes over five hours, at an average speed of 13mph. A fit cyclist would be faster. Between Stranraer in south-west Scotland and Penzance in south-west England, the journey time is 24 hours.
A spokesperson for Atoc, the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: “Every year we minimise the number of people affected by disruption caused by improvement works. The vast majority of people travelling on the Jubilee bank holiday weekend will experience no disruption because of the works.”
Work is particularly intensive because of the impending Olympics. Network Rail has pledged that there will be no disruptive work on main-line rail routes during the summer, including the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Many other lines are affected. Normal weekday journey times are scheduled to be doubled between Sheffield, Leicester and the Eurostar terminal at London St Pancras.
There are some good tidings. First Great Western is laying on extra services from Bristol to London. And the normal weekend closures on the London Underground are to be suspended for the Diamond Jubilee – a cause for celebration in itself, being the first weekend of the year with no engineering shutdowns on the Tube.