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
    +1

    Comment number 804.

    802.Sir Smifff
    WCML is already totally electrified. What lines are you refering to and will these form feeder routes to HS2?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 803.

    796.Robert
    Sorry but you dont seem to have grasped that this HYS is about Network Rails spending plans. NR is owned by the government, there are no shareholders dividends and the public, via the government, own the rail infrastructure. Therefore the shareholding cannot change. I think you are thinking of Train Operating Companys which this HYS is not about.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 802.

    Why are they electrifying parts of the WCML when they are getting HS2

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 801.

    794.Tetrix
    But thats nothing to do with Network Rail and their spending plans which is what this HYS is about. Network Rail do not provide or run passenger trains, thats the job of the Train Operator (TOC), the likes of Virgin or Arriva. NR maintains the Infrastructure - lines, signalling, bridges, tunnelsetc. they do not provide trains.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 800.

    789.FauxGeordie
    No it's not. It's about Network Rails spending plans over the next control period from 2014 to 2019. It has nothing to do with trains and fare increases. That is the responsibility of the Office of the Rail Regulator. The ORR has approved NR's plans and must now fund them, thats not NR's responsibility, it's the ORR's. You must try to understand the organisation and process.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 799.

    798.
    Tio Terry

    Thanks; I stand corrected. Stll pretty amazing though!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 798.

    797.Lottiel
    I think you will find that was the Great Western Railway, not the West Coast Mainline. They also spent 2 years building up to it and the actual change over took two weeks in total to achieve.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 797.

    Ironic, isn't it? This is a privatised industry yet it receives more in state aid now than ever before. Once this public investment goes in, the fares are bound to go up.We need investment in rail, but there has to be something in it for the taxpayer who funds it. By the way, when the Victorians changed the then existing west coast line over to a different guage they did it in.... one weekend.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 796.

    In my opinion, for each and every year the price in any public service run by private organisations raises by more than inflation (AKA Public Investment); the worth of shares it would buy should be allocated to the public domain.

    All payouts to these shares should go into reducing fare prices.

    And if they keep up their current progress we'd probably end up owning a +50% stake before we know it!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 795.

    787
    Don't you mean outside big cities? There's a total lack of rails anywhere near many towns here.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 794.

    "793.maria house
    I recently travelled by train. It was filthy. The smell from the toilet (or lack of toilet) was unbearable. What's the use of spending all this money on the tracks when they haven't got any cleaners?"

    Must have been a modern train, then. The old train toilets flushed directly onto the tracks; new trains store the effluent and are not emptied often enough.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 793.

    I recently travelled by train. It was filthy. The smell from the toilet (or lack of toilet) was unbearable. What's the use of spending all this money on the tracks when they haven't got any cleaners? I will drive next time.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 792.

    Good.
    Get on with it - especially electification of the Midlands Mainline - before the money is allocated to HS2.
    Alan

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 791.

    "Spending £1bn to improve the network in the South and South West"

    ++++++++++++

    Oh joy! Snorkels no longer needed for the Exeter to Tiverton section.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 790.

    @727
    It is also a huge money spinning opportunity. Skills shortages mean high payroll costs and contractors used for years rather than a few months.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 789.

    "There are so many people posting on here who are totally ignorant of what this HYS is about.
    "

    This HYS is about public money pouring into the rail industry and massive fare increases. The separation of budgets &control is entirely artificial & a significant enabler to skinning the taxpayer

    It is your own decision & yours alone that nobody is allowed to talk about anything AT ALL apart from NR

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 788.

    "The crossrail engineering projects currently underway in London are stunning. Engineers rarely get the acknowledgement they deserve. These are quite staggering and a massive investment which is sure to improve the rail network and user experience across London."

    I don't doubt for a moment that this is true.

    Also that the things cost way more than originally envisaged. And the cash goes overseas

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 787.

    Rail is only one sort of service here, a gravy train. Rich man's rail. The age of commuting is dying off it is and always will be too expensive. Never buy house out of towns.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 786.

    We hear the same promises every verse end, improvements more services, all dependant on ripping more cash from your pockets at above inflation rates, yet so far they have miserably failed to deliver yet still subsidies continue and fat cats get fatter.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 785.

    And you can bet that nearly all of this money will go to the South East, whilst here in the West Midlands we are once again starved of vitally important investment! There are high population areas round here that haven't had a rail link since Beeching, Dudley being a prime example. Renationalize our railway system and give us an efficient, cheaper and more reliable rail network!

 

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