Network Rail plans £38bn investment in tracks and stations

Dawlish Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Network Rail wants to achieve more resilience in the face of extreme weather

Network Rail has announced a five-year plan to invest £38bn in rail infrastructure.

It includes the construction of new tracks, the renovation of stations and the upgrade of existing lines.

The announcement comes after it emerged that Network Rail was expecting a record fine of £70m for delays suffered by passengers over the past five years.

It blamed congestion and extreme weather for the delays, but said it was disappointed by its performance.

'Bigger, better'

In a statement accompanying Monday's announcement about its investment plans Mark Carne, chief executive of Network Rail, said: "Passenger numbers in recent years have grown far beyond even our own industry's predictions, so it's vital that this investment over the next five years helps meet the continuing increase in demand for rail travel.

"Bigger, better stations, more tracks and longer platforms, electric-powered trains, reopened railway lines and fewer level crossings - all will help deliver more frequent, more comfortable, more reliable journeys and a safer, better-value railway for everyone," he said.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Network Rail expects the line at Dawlish in Devon to reopen on 4 April

The plan, which runs from 2014 to 2019, includes:

  • Up to 700 more trains a day between major northern cities
  • 20% increase in the capacity of London's commuter trains
  • 850 miles of track to be electrified
  • An east-west rail project connecting Oxford and Milton Keynes
  • Upgrades for stations including Birmingham New Street and Manchester Victoria

In addition to those new projects, £13bn will be put into replacing and renewing old tracks, points, fencing and platforms.

'Punctuality priority'

David Sidebottom, acting chief executive of rail watchdog group Passenger Focus, said: "The £38bn investment for Network Rail over the next five years is welcome, particularly during difficult economic times.

"Passengers should ultimately see an improved rail service bringing the things they tell us they want: improved punctuality, reliable trains with more seats."

Alluding to the fine expected to be imposed on Network Rail for delays, he added: "Punctuality should be a particular focus given the priority passengers give to it."

Mr Carne told the BBC that "huge growth in passenger numbers over the past five years" had contributed to punctuality issues.

"The train network is becoming more and more busy, and that's why we have to invest again to increase the capacity, to improve the reliability still further," he said.

Network Rail says it also wants to improve the network's ability to withstand extreme weather.

Mr Carne said: "Over the next five years we will work tirelessly to improve the resilience of our railway, targeting investment in areas we know are vulnerable to nature's impact and reducing the likelihood of damage and disruption."

Storms in February destroyed the main line at Dawlish in Devon, cutting rail services to Cornwall.

"I don't think in this century we should be having railways that are out of action for two months as we've suffered in Dawlish," Mr Carne told the BBC. "It's quite clear we need to invest further in improving the resilience of our network."

Network Rail expects the line to reopen on 4 April.

Dawlish was just one example of a town cut off from the network by bad weather, Mr Carne said. Network Rail has just reopened the line to Hastings after several weeks of closure due to landslips.

"We've suffered an enormous amount of damage to the railway right across the network, and that's one of the reasons why our punctuality figures have been lower than we would have liked.

"We need to do more to improve the resilience and to provide the passengers with the kind of service that I think they rightly deserve," he added.

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