The future prospects for the line
The line has survived two attempts at closure during the 1960s and another when the Humber bridge was opened in 1981, and somewhat miraculously - apart from heavy losses at New Holland - most of the early infrastructure is still in place. However, with still six manned signal boxes and crossings between Ulceby and Barton, the line is clearly an expensive one to run.
In an attempt to cut costs, a couple of years ago proposals arose to skip-stop some of the stations along the line, but this was strongly opposed by FBL on the grounds that - on an already sparse service - the selected stations were those which served the most isolated communities.
However, an area where significant savings could be made is in automating the manually-operated crossing gates and modernising the signalling. Of course in doing so much of the heritage value of the route - currently so popular with enthusiasts - would be lost. Nevertheless, this is a sacrifice which FBL welcomes if it needs to be made in order to keep the line open.
There have been suggestions also to single the double track between Ulceby and Oxmarsh but FBL feels that this would be a mistake and this is now unlikely. The removal of the second track would eliminate the only remaining refuge able to cope with maintenance and emergencies between Grimsby Town and Barton. Furthermore, should there be an excursion train on the branch or the Barton service be returned to hourly, this short-sighted policy could lead to congestion on the main line in the event of a unit being held at Habrough to await the departure of the excursion train or a delayed unit from Barton.
Also there has been consideration of reinstating the freight track from Killingholme to the Barton line as this would assist with the oil traffic. The line would curve round from East Halton and south of Goxhill to join the Barton line at Thornton Abbey in the direction of Ulceby. Nothing more of this project has been made public of late, but if it were to proceed then the proposed singling of the track to Ulceby would present yet another hinderance. Double track would also be highly beneficial should freight traffic return to New Holland or, indeed, be required for the Falkland Way industrial estate at Barton (a condition of planning consent for two of the established industries which was never enforced).
The proposed devolution of the railways
The current sub-franchise arrangement for the Barton Line has suffered conflicts of priorities in the past whereby an express long-distance company is running a local stopping service. FBL feels that some local autonomy would be beneficial by adopting either option 4 (One principal franchise with one or more micro-franchise) or option 5 (Entire franchise devolved to a grouping of PTEs and Local Authorities) with the proviso that sufficient influence be allocated to North and North East Lincolnshire councils.
The Department for Transport has indicated that the Barton-Cleethorpes service will be transferred from Northern Rail to East Midlands Trains from the latter's franchise renewal in October 2018. Stagecoach, Arriva and a collaboration of First and Trenitalia are currently bidding for the franchise.
The Northern Rail franchise has been awarded to Arriva to run from April 2016 for nine years.
The TransPennine Express franchise has been re-awarded to First Group from April 2016.
Network Rail's resignalling arrangements in the Barton line area (as understood by FBL)
This was a project to redirect control of the trains from 13 local signal boxes to a new Regional Operations Centre in York. The area in question is bounded by fringe signal boxes at Scunthorpe, Brigg, Holton-le-moor and Goxhill, with the exception of some track within the Killingholme and Immingham freight yards. It is the first of a number of projects to be so allocated to York. Another 10 ROCs are planned for the rest of the country.
A 5 day blockade took place for the whole area from 23:00 on 24th December to 05:00 on 30th December 2015 and a 12 day blockade between Habrough Junction and Cleethorpes from 05:00 on 24th December 2015 to 05:00 on 11th January 2016. All passenger train services in the affected areas were replaced by buses during these periods.
The work was completed on time and included the following:
Sixteen level crossings were upgraded.
Line speed at Wrawby Junction was increased from 30mph to 50mph.
Additional signal block fringes were inserted between Foreign Ore and Wrawby Junctions to enable 75mph operation.
A new under-line bridge was built over a new link road into Immingham dock.
The line between Ulceby and Oxmarsh remains double track but is treated for signalling purposes as single track from Ulceby.
Goxhill is a track circuit block fringe meaning that control from Goxhill northwards remains as at present.
Of the manned crossings on the Barton branch Bystaple Lane has been fitted with keylocks, Barton Lane (Thornton Abbey) has been converted to ABCL (automatic barriers), and Oxmarsh and Barrow Road (New Holland) remain unchanged for the time being.
Most of the insulated block joints have been replaced by axle counters.
Track circuit block fringes remain at Brocklesby, Stallingborough and Immingham East.
Sensors replaced cameras in determining when it is safe to lower barriers, but cameras remain for exceptional use.
The Killingholme to Barton Lane relaying is a private proposal not involving Network Rail at present.
Some time after 2017 work will begin on upgrading the Brigg line to make it a 24-hour railway.