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£4.2bn 'rail revolution' announced

The government has announced a “rail revolution”, with a £4.2bn investment in Britain’s rail network today, focused on the North of England, Wales and the Midlands.

The new spending will bring the total funding for construction work on the railways to £9.4bn, in what the prime minister has dubbed the “biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian era”.

The previously unannounced funding, for the 2014-2019 High Level Output Specification programme, is expected to be targeted at the Northern Hub of Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool and Newcastle, with additional projects in the Midlands and Wales.

And the prime minister promised that more investment announcements would be made this week as Parliament prepares for its summer recess.

Mr Cameron hailed the “rail revolution” at a Cabinet Office meeting in the West Midlands, and said the investment was aimed at “a fast, modern, reliable railway with more capacity and cleaner, electric trains.”

He added that “by the time this is complete, around three quarters of all rail journeys in England and Wales will be made on electric trains”.

The new projects will include:

  • An ‘Electric Spine’ for passenger and freight traffic, linking the Midlands and Yorkshire with the South of England and electrifying the Midland Main Line.
  • Targeted electrification of the Great Western Main Line from Cardiff to Swansea, between Micklefield and Selby in Yorkshire and between Walsall and Rugely in the West Midlands.
  • £700m for investment in capacity for commuters in London and the South East, with £400m for other cities.
  • Great Western Main Line investment, including Bristol and Oxford stations, with additional track capacity on the Bristol approach.
  • £900m in investment in smaller schemes.

See the attached files for an illustration of all the HLOS schemes.

“Massively important”

Speaking on the Today programme this morning, transport secretary Justine Greening claimed that “£5.2bn of this was work that we’d already announced that we wanted to get along with, whether that’s trans-Pennine electrification, the northern hub, which was massively important”.

“Obviously we’ve got CrossRail happening, Thameslink happening, all of that was already announced, what I’m announcing today is a further £4.2bn that will be spent over that 2014-19 period and that will complement what we’ve already announced.”

“It’s improving access to Heathrow, improving passenger services, making sure we’ve got all that in place. And I think a further piece of it that it’s easy to miss is investing in freight so we can get more of our roads and onto the rail.”

“It’s about increasing capacity where we need it for the increased demand, as you say, a lot of it’s about electrification. This is cheaper trains that’ll be more cost-efficient to run, and it’s about investing in stations and track around the country so that we improve reliability and improve service too.”

The investment programme is to be funded by two years of fare rises announced in 2010, as well as efficiency savings from electrification. Work will not begin before 2014.

“We announced this investment in government in 2009 - over half of it is completing programmes that were already started like Crossrail and Thameslink. Most of the rest of the electrifications were announced in 2009.”

Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle

The announcement comes after a week of sustained pressure in which the UK Contractor’s Group launched a campaign for greater investment in construction, with Kier chief executive Paul Sheffield giving details at last week’s Construction News Awards 2012.

Two leading conservative think tanks and the head of the Confederation of British Industry also came out last week against the coalition’s infrastructure plans.

 

“A fantastic day”

The plans were greeted warmly by figures in the industry. Network Rail chief executive David Higgins said “the pledge to invest billions of pounds in projects to improve, update and transform our railway is not only welcome but essential”.

Meanwhile, Railway Industry Association director-general Jeremy Candfield said the announcement “rightly recognises the importance to the economy of fast, reliable train services.”

Mr. Candfield added: “Greater confidence in future workloads will help suppliers to invest in the people and equipment that we need for tomorrow’s railway. The central role given by the Statement to a rolling programme of electrification work, which industry has long advocated, will facilitate the economic delivery of this important upgrade.”

Greater Manchester Council’s transport committee chair Andrew Fender, meanwhile, said the announcements marked “a fantastic day” that would “change the face of rail services in the North of England in a manner that hasn’t been seen for several generations”.

Civil Engineering Contractor’s Association director of external affairs Alasdair Reisner welcomed “the government’s continuing commitment to investment in a modern and efficient rail system that supports growth and improves competitiveness”.

He added that: “it is that the government maintains its support for investment, working with industry to deliver efficient improvements to the network.”

Playing politics

“What we need is investment in rail today, not yet another political promise of jam tomorrow.”

National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers general secretary Bob Crow.

But the announcement was met with scepticism in some quarters, with Institute of Economic Affairs head of transport Richard Wellings commented that “the government’s main priority should be phasing out taxpayer subsidies to the railways rather than investing in additional loss-making projects”.

“Claims that the schemes can be funded through higher fare revenues and efficiency gains should be treated with scepticism. In reality taxpayers are likely to end up paying a significant share of the costs.”

Dr Wellings also accused the government of using the investment to curry favour in certain regions: “If economic objectives were the priority, the government would be investing the money in road schemes, which generally produce far greater economic returns.”

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