£37bn rail investment plan unveiled

First published in Business Daily

A £37.5 billion plan to run and expand the railways in the period 2014-19 has been unveiled by Network Rail (NR).

If approved, the plan will provide 170,000 extra commuter seats at peak times by 2019, by which time the railways could be carrying as many as 225 million more passengers than at present.

But despite the big investment plans, NR envisages no overall improvement in train punctuality compared with the trains-on-time target for 2009-2014. A figure of 92.5% punctuality was set for the period 2009-2014 - a target which NR has failed to meet.

In the business plan, the company said it expected to achieve a trains-on-time figure of 92.5% "by the end" of the period 2014-2019.

NR also warned that even with the extra trains and seats this would "not be enough" on the busy West Coast Main Line where the added capacity of the London to Birmingham HS2 high-speed rail line project was, it said, "essential".

And NR chief executive Sir David Higgins added, ominously, that the industry, under pressure to cut costs, had entered "the era of trade-offs".

He went on: "Increasingly we have to balance the need to build more infrastructure, run trains on time and cut costs, and in many areas choices will need to be made."

To be agreed with and approved by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), the NR plan envisages improvements that by 2019, including various electrification schemes such as the Great Western and Midland Main Lines, station improvements at Birmingham New Street and Reading in Berkshire, and reopening 31 miles of railways in Scotland closed under the Beeching cuts of 50 years ago.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said: "While we support any plans to expand and invest in Britain's railways, you cannot seriously expect to safely increase capacity while at the same time the Government is looking to axe key frontline staff on trains, track and stations."

Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) chief executive Richard Price said: "Ministers have shown huge faith in what the railways can add to Britain's society and economy, committing to around £20 billion-worth of public money at a time when there is little money to go around."

© Press Association 2012

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