Why Shrewsbury misses the train to London

When 4,000 people sign a petition about a local rail service you have to sit up and take notice - especially when among the signatories are MPs from both sides of the political divide.

The Conservative MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, Daniel Kawczynski, and the Labour MP for Telford, David Wright, are two of the high-profile Salopians who have signed the petition organised by the Shropshire Star newspaper calling for the restoration of direct rail services between Shrewsbury and London.

Image copyright Other
Image caption Conservative MP for Shrewsbury Daniel Kawczynski, is one local MP to sign the petition

What makes this campaign unusual is that Virgin Trains has twice applied to do exactly that.

So why should Shrewsbury be one of the only English county towns without a direct rail link to the capital?

Services to London Marylebone by the Wrexham Shropshire Railway Company were axed nearly three years ago after running-up a loss of nearly £3m in their final year of operation alone.

But campaigners say this is no reason why a service shouldn't resume. They point out that was a stopping service which took three-and-a-half hours each way.

'Detrimental impact'

The biggest market is for a fast business route calling only at principal stations and that, say, Virgin, is exactly what they want to run.

So who or what is stopping them? Network Rail.

They have refused Virgin's application, saying: "The line is all but full and cannot cope with additional services. Our analysis, backed up by the regulator, has shown it will have a detrimental impact on performance for all users on the route."

Reading between the lines (no pun intended) the main question here is punctuality.

Extra trains would undoubtedly put more strain on the West Coast Mainline which in turn increases the risk of delays to existing services.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Virgin Trains has applied to run the service

But Mr Kawczynski isn't taking Network Rail's "no" for an answer.

He says: "We are only talking about two, possibly three, return journeys a day. It's ludicrous that Network Rail are saying the line cannot cope with extra services."

Network Rail do have one crumb of comfort for the Shropshire campaigners.

It said: "We have always said that when performance improves, additional services might be something we could consider again in the future."

Further improvements to the West Coast line itself should help. But for the government the over-arching answer is High Speed Rail, which ministers say will free-up capacity for a variety of new services on existing lines, including the one to Shrewsbury.

But HS2, as they say, is another story altogether.

We'll have more on this on Sunday Politics at 11.00 on BBC One Midlands on Sunday.