Transport Committee welcomes record investment committed to the 'classic' rail network but calls for greater regional balance in spending. Network Rail must also regain the confidence of passengers following recent disruption.
Launching a report examining Network Rail’s programme of investment for 2014-19, Louise Ellman MP, Chair of the Transport Committee says:
"With over 1.5 billion journeys made last year, millions of people rely on a train service to get to work or see family and friends. We welcome the record spending planned for the ‘classic’ rail network, but 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 chaos faced by passengers over Christmas at King’s Cross and Paddington, and the continuing disruption at London Bridge, are unacceptable. They are also a worrying sign for the capacity of Network Rail to manage multiple, complex engineering projects simultaneously. Network Rail must demonstrate that it can deliver key improvements —such as electrification in the North West and the Great Western Main Line — on time, and while still delivering safe an efficient services for all passengers.
Reported delays to key infrastructure projects must be addressed by the Department for Transport. If a rail improvement or electrification project is announced for delivery in a set time period, there should be an expectation that it will be delivered on time."
Government to take responsibility
The Committee calls for the Government to take responsibility for rolling stock, to address general shortages and ensure there will be sufficient trains to run on newly-electrified lines.
Commenting on this, Louise Ellman said:
"Ministers must ensure there is sufficient rolling stock - of a decent quality - to run timetabled rail services and maximise the benefits of new infrastructure. Rising numbers of rail passengers have not being matched by investment in new rolling stock, resulting in overcrowding, and passengers unable to board some busy trains.
The Secretary of State refused to tell us when the outdated and unpopular Pacer trains will be removed from the rail network — in Wales and the South West, as well as the North. We call for a clear commitment to remove Pacers from the rail network by 2020 at the latest."
The Committee also concluded:
- Record levels of funding show a welcome commitment to ‘classic’ rail but this should be set in a longer-term strategic plan for the rail network, which ties into a wider transport strategy.
- The overrunning Christmas engineering works were unacceptable.
- Network Rail must have adequate contingency plans. They must also work with Passenger Focus and train operating companies to improve communication with passengers when engineering works fail.
- In the light of the change of status of Network Rail the ORR must reconsider whether fining a public sector body remains an effective means for the regulator to exert control.
- Greater transparency is essential around rail spending. Criteria used to allocate spending should be published.
- A traffic-light system should provide clarity on the status of each rail investment project.
- The public should be able to track the spending and outcomes for each Network Rail spending period.
- The Department for Transport must ensure there is sufficient rolling stock to operate existing services and on newly electrified lines.
- It is concerning that the DfT chose 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.
- Pacer trains should be removed from the rail network by 2020 at the latest.
- The needs of rail freight - a crucial part of the UK economy - must be balanced with those of passenger rail. Government should produce a strategy covering road and rail freight together.
- The Office of Rail Regulation must consult on the track access charging regime with a view to reducing the current complexity.
- Department for Transport should clarify future plans for improving resilience at Dawlish, where the “Orange Army” of Network Rail engineers rebuilt the seawall and successfully re-opened the line.
- Government should also clarify its future plans for improving connectivity between the classic and high speed network, including any proposals for a HS3 or improved East-West connectivity.