UK Politics

Trains outside London are 'cast-offs' MPs say

King's Cross Station Image copyright Reuters

Rail passengers outside the south-east of England are expected to put up with "cast-off" trains, MPs say.

The Commons Transport Select Committee said rail investment had been focused on London "for far too long".

It also said ministers "must address" delays to improvement works to avoid a repeat of the issues seen at Christmas.

The Department for Transport said it was building a "world class railway" with "ambitious plans" to improve services in northern England.

The committee said it welcomed Network Rail's planned investment up to 2019.

But it called for "a fairer allocation of rail investment across the country".

'Fairer funding'

The formula used has meant the "far south-west" has been "starved of investment", the MPs said.

Labour MP Louise Ellman welcomed the "record" spending planned, but said: "Treasury statistics demonstrate that for too long this spending has been focused on London.

"We call for revised - and published - criteria to ensure fairer funding allocations that reflect wider economic and social objectives."

The MPs also said the government should take responsibility for train rolling stock and address shortages. They questioned the "cascading" of trains to other parts of the country when new stock is bought for the south-east of England.

The report said: "It is concerning that the department has chosen to order brand new trains for passengers in London and the South East, while expecting passengers in the rest of the country to be content with reconditioned older trains - cast-offs from more prosperous areas."

Pacers' future

Ms Ellman said Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin had refused to say when the "outdated and unpopular" Pacer trains would be removed from the network, adding that they should go by 2020 at the latest.

Pacer trains were built between 1980 and 1987, and were originally intended a short-term solution to a shortage of rolling stock, but remain in use today.

Passengers faced severe delays at King's Cross and Paddington stations over the festive period as engineering work over-ran.

The committee said the "unacceptable" disruption was "a worrying sign for the capacity of Network Rail to manage multiple, complex engineering projects simultaneously".

It said the company had to show it could deliver improvements such as electrification in north west England on on the Great Western Main Line on time.

'Asleep on job'

A Department for Transport spokesman said Pacer trains would be replaced as part of improvements including the proposed "HS3" rail link across northern England.

He added: "Together they will improve services for passengers and help close the economic gap between north and south. We have made it clear to Network Rail that we expect the company to deliver the government's investment programme on time and on budget."

But Labour said the government's plans to modernise the railways were being threatened by "ministerial incompetence".

"They were asleep on the job during the Christmas meltdown, and across the country projects are delayed, overspent and at risk of being cut back," said shadow rail minister Lillian Greenwood.

"Hard pressed commuters on overcrowded carriages have been hit with fare rises of up to 33% since 2010 and no end is in sight for the antiquated Pacer trains that David Cameron promised to replace.

"Passengers want real reform - such as a legal right to the cheapest fare - but today's report is a stark reminder that it won't happen under a Conservative government."

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