Government safeguards key rail projects

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The Secretary of State for Transport has confirmed £8 billion worth of investment in the country’s rail network although uncertainty still hangs over electrification of the Great Western Main Line into Wales and the Intercity Express Programme (IEP).

Ministers are currently weighing up two options for the long-distance fleet – a revised proposal from Agility Trains, preferred bidder for the IEP, and the purchase of all-electric trains which would be diesel-hauled over non-electrified lines. The refurbishment of ageing HSTs has been ruled out. A decision on the way forward is now expected early in the New Year.

Work to assess the business case for the Great Western’s electrification to Swansea is continuing with the Welsh Assembly government. In the meantime, Philip Hammond has confirmed that the line’s wires will be extended to Didcot, Oxford and Newbury to benefit commuter services. The section to Maidenhead forms part of the Crossrail project.

A triangle of lines connecting Liverpool, Manchester and Preston will also be electrified, together with the branch to Blackpool North, at a cost of £300 million. Work should finish in 2016 although the Manchester to Newton-le-Willows section is likely to go live in 2013. In the short term, the Midland Main Line’s OLE will not be progressed northwards from Bedford as a result of cost pressures and the benefits brought by already-delivered enhancements, but the scheme still has a strong financial base and will be considered for Control Period 5 (CP5), covering the period 2014-19.

Thameslink emerges unscathed from the government’s review but the completion of works around London Bridge will be delayed until 2018 due to “substantial risks around delivery and operation of existing services”. Up to 1,200 new vehicles are to be ordered for the route’s ambitious high-frequency timetable, with proposals from Siemens and Bombardier-led consortia currently being evaluated. The preferred bidder should be known in the spring. Overall, around 2,100 new vehicles should have been introduced to the network by 2019, bringing a 17% increase in capacity.

Funding has been confirmed for investments on the East Coast and Midland main lines, as well as work to tackle constraints through the busy trans-Pennine corridor. Ongoing station upgrades at King’s Cross, Reading and Birmingham New Street are secure; so too is the redevelopment of Gatwick Airport’s station. The green light also stays on for the Felixstowe-Nuneaton freight project.

Government safeguards key rail projects
Key rail project under development

With all its infrastructure work, Mr Hammond expects “Network Rail to keep a tight rein on costs”, reflecting the ‘more for less’ approach being demanded from the rest of the public sector. Planning for CP5, which should have got underway in October, will now start in April by which time reviews should have been concluded into Network Rail’s structure and the value for money it offers.

Beyond the ‘classic’ railway, the government has reaffirmed its commitment to onward extensions of the core London-Birmingham high speed line to Leeds and Manchester, the tube upgrade programme and light rail projects in Birmingham, Tyneside, Nottingham and Sheffield.

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