Network Rail unveils £37.5bn investment plan

 

Dave Higgins, chief executive of Network Rail: ''We haven't invested to meet demand (in the last 50 years) and playing catch up is always more expensive''

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A £37.5bn plan to develop the UK's railway infrastructure over five years has been announced by Network Rail.

The plan, covering the five years up to 2019, promises faster journeys, 170,000 more peak-time commuter seats and improved reliability, but depends on making savings and rising fares.

Consumer group Passenger Focus welcomed investment but said it was important to keep travel costs "under control".

Network Rail said it needed to invest now to create a more resilient railway.

Its plans include:

  • Spending £600m protecting tracks and bridges against floods and heatwaves and adding 1,000 miles of new electrified lines including the Great Western and Midland Main Lines
  • Seeing 225 million more passengers per year and 355,000 more trains in service - the highest numbers ever
  • Providing 20% extra morning peak seats into central London and 32% into large regional cities in England and Wales
  • Providing 700 more trains a day linking key northern England cities and a 10-minute reduction in journey times between Manchester and Leeds
  • Spending £1bn to improve the network in the South and South West
  • A move away from more than 800 signal boxes to 14 major operations centres
  • Station improvements at Birmingham New Street and Reading, Berkshire, and some £4bn improvements for Scotland including reopening 31 miles of railways closed nearly 50 years ago

Network Rail says it aims to reduce the cost of running Britain's railways by a further 18% and cut annual public subsidy to between £2.6bn and £2.9bn in 2019, down from £4.5bn in 2009 and £7bn in 2004.

Resilient railway

However, the plans will be affordable only if Network Rail manages to make these savings. It also assumes fares will keep rising by more than inflation every year to help pay for it.

Analysis

This is an ambitious wish-list that could make a real difference to train passengers, but money is going to be an issue.

For starters, Network Rail needs to save £3.1bn between 2014 and 2019.

Swapping 800 old signal boxes for 14 swish new operating centres is one plan which they say will save £250m a year, without, they insist, compulsory redundancies.

Then there is safety. The old way of checking a track was to have 30-odd people walking along it, now they have computerised trains carrying two or three people.

Still, saving that kind of cash is a major challenge and they will be under intense pressure not to compromise on safety or jobs to achieve it.

Raising the money depends on inflation staying low, passenger demand staying high, the commercial property market remaining steady and the next government sticking to the current fares policy of yearly, above-inflation rises.

In the current climate none of that is certain, which means some of these fancy new plans might get mothballed if something goes wrong.

BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott said that could mean at least six more years of big price rises, on top of the 10 years passengers have already experienced.

Network Rail chief executive David Higgins told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have an amazing railway which is performing out of its socks, but it is still an old, Victorian railway which costs money to maintain because it is old and at a very, very high level of capacity, so getting access to the railway is really difficult.

"But we have made huge progress. The costs of maintaining and operating the railway in the 10-year period to 2014 have come down by 50%. We have to invest to save. We have to spend now to increase capacity, create a more resilient railway."

Anthony Smith, of consumer group Passenger Focus, said passengers would be pleased to see Network Rail and the train companies "planning together to keep investing to meet key passenger priorities as shown by Passenger Focus research".

He said providing extra seats to tackle overcrowding and continuing to get more trains on time was "welcome".

However, he added: "Getting costs under control is also a key industry priority to help keep the lid on future rises."

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: "Early clarity from government on the franchising and regulatory framework for rail will be vital in allowing train companies, Network Rail and our suppliers to deliver the best possible deal for passengers and taxpayers."

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union said rail passengers had already suffered enough above-inflation fare rises.

"They should not now be expected to face another six years of even higher fares. No-one expects motorists to pay more for new roads or air passengers to pay for new runways." he said.

Network Rail's business plan was unveiled just days after rail fares for season ticket holders in England, Wales and Scotland rose by an average of 4.2% as the annual price hike, announced in August, came into effect.

Overall, ticket prices increased by 3.9%, although rises varied between train operators.

It prompted the TUC to claim that average train fares had risen nearly three times faster than average incomes since 2008.

 

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 484.

    269. bigolbear
    the railways it was nationalised because it did't work then and it's been proven over and over again privatisation of the rail network doesn't work now , ,"

    And nationalised BR didn't work either.

    The system needs more investment than it has had over the last century (during pre-BR, BR and post-BR) to get it to a 'working' state.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 483.

    189.Average-UK-Male
    in response to:
    144.nefer
    ......................................
    I'm afraid that its not unions nor pension issues that all this privatisation is about. You should be more worried about the corporatocracy driving all this from the States - an agenda for globalisation. Sinister and happening.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 482.

    @Charlie1902

    'Over the last six years of massive train price increases have you noticed how much busier the roads become?'

    Since 2008 the roads have become measurably LESS congested as people make fewer journeys due to cost/job security. Yesterdays news was all about how last years new car sales are only now back up to 2001 levels.

    People have been taxed off the roads to subsidise train fares.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 481.

    448 Still peddling the fantasy that its the workforce who get the money

    Utter rubbish.

    Train driver wages are a minuscule fraction of the money skimmed by the hordes of commercial lawyers & managers swarming over every tiny decision in this nightmare privatisation structure

    Train drivers get wages reflecting shortages in supply as the privatised companies don't bother with training - poor mgmt

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 480.

    The privatisation of rail was all about extracting billions in profits for managers and shareholders; now we're seeing the result of consistent under-investment. Not saying nationalisation was any better, but privatisation is a scam to help the Tory funders. Always was. Health Service is next.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 479.

    I wonder how much of this £37.5 billion will end up lining the pockets of the fat cat directors and greedy shareholders.

    I don't care how much they spend on the railway, as long as taxpayer's money is not used. If you want to use a train, then you should be prepared to pay the full cost. It's wrong to expect those of us who don't use the train to subsidise those who do.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 478.

    It's good that Network Rail want to improve the service for passengers, but there are some items missing on their list. Seats are good, that directly affects the comfort of passengers on their crowded commute journeys, but in the heat of summer sitting or standing on a train sweating buckets - sometimes sharing your personal space with many others, that is disgusting. Air conditioning please!!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 477.

    Could that possibly be thirty one miles of track that has already started being worked on before the announcement - the Waverley route? A scheme that is already accounted for?. Birmingham New Street; could it be the plans for another station will be dusted off; that were stalled thirty years ago? Me wonders if whomever was behind the White Elephant at Milton Keynes provided this tommy rot as well

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 476.

    @33 nilihist

    You could make it up ........because you did make it up.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 475.

    Why can't they use the money that they've earmarked for HS2 for this work? Seems a bit daft to me that they're still going ahead with this new rail line when there's plenty that needs fixing on the old ones.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 474.

    If Network Rail do this wisely then it will be a £37.5bn investment not just in the network but in the country. We don't want to end up with another cross rail train acquisition on our hands with the money and jobs going elsewhere. We have the knowledge and skill set in the UK to make everything this project needs buying British could double or more the £37.5bn value to the economy.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 473.

    Electrification of the Midland Main Line is such a waste. Sustainable energy source perhaps, but it's hardly green burning all those fossil fuels.

    Maybe investing in improvements to services should happen before fare rises and once the service is actually a good standard then set the price for it. I'd rather drive 100 miles to London, rather than pay £100 for the privilege to stand.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 472.

    The reason governments all around the world help pay for a rail network is if it wasn't there everyone would HAVE to travel by road -How is the road traffic getting into London these days? What about on the M6? Do you want another 100,000 cars travelling alongside you at rush hour?
    Over the last six years of massive train price increases have you noticed how much busier the roads become?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 471.

    test

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 470.

    There are too many people trying to get to work at the same time using an over priced railway.
    There are too many companies running a fragmented system creaming off profits as they pass the costs around the system. None of them want to go to their shareholders or the banks to raise capital.
    This public money should be invested in 21st century technology (broadband) not Victorian.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 469.

    If I might jusk ask a question - Where are all these travellers going - What are they going to do when they get there - How can this expense be justified ?
    They are certainly not going to work - As firms are closing - Industry is in terminal decline and unemployment is rising !
    Still the rail bosses will continue on mega salaries and pensions as usual !!!
    Somebody needs a good kick up the backside

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 468.

    Network Rail run the infrastructure, not the trains. Complaining about trains is like saying you bought a new car and the road surface is poor!

    As for comparing the UK to Europe, the UK has the largest mixed traffic (goods and passengers) network in the world. Our European neighbours have the luxury of space!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 467.

    This is all talk. An attempt to subdue disquiet over fare rises.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 466.

    @444 Peter

    Sounds like you are talking from personal experience..

    I hope you gave them what for before you left!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 465.

    37.5 billion?

    Ho-ho, get ready for the mother of all fare rises, coming to a station near you by 2015

 

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