Delivering a Sustainable Railway: a 30 year strategy for the railways?
The Government needs to be much more ambitious in its long-term plans for the UK's railways, the Transport Committee concludes today.
In a report looking at the Government's White Paper, Delivering a Sustainable Railway: a 30 year strategy for the railways? the Committee welcomes the Government's efforts to create a long term strategy for the development of the railways. But the Committee criticises the Government for its lack of vision in failing to plan for high speed rail, and for its inaction in relation to Network Rail's failings. The Committee called for a review of the way Network Rail is managed.
MPs say the engineering overruns over the New Year period laid bare management failings within Network Rail. And they find it "highly extraordinary" for Network Rail to reward its senior managers with huge financial bonuses in a year where passengers have been "humiliated and inconvenienced" by the engineering fiascos and where a record fine has been imposed for breach of the Network licence.
The Committee's report focuses on three crucial areas: the absence of a genuine and bold long-term vision for the railways, the ability of the infrastructure provider, Network Rail, to deliver its targets and the inadequacy of the proposals to increase capacity on the rail network.
Chair of the Committee Louise Ellman MP said:
"The railways are increasingly popular and the 30-year strategy has the potential to provide a tremendous sense of purpose and direction. However, the White Paper lacks vision and represents a missed opportunity."
"Network Rail is critical to the achievement of the objectives of the White Paper. Yet the management of the three engineering projects which overran at New Year demonstrates that there are serious deficiencies in terms of central control and internal oversight mechanisms within Network Rail. It also provides evidence of flawed management of teams and of contractors, including the dubious practice of self-certification. The Chairman of Network Rail did not display any sense of urgency when he gave evidence to us."
"The bonuses paid out to senior management at Network Rail added insult to injury for the long-suffering passengers who have had to struggle with the consequences of the company's failings."
The serious and wide-ranging management failures exposed by the three major engineering overruns at New Year need to be rectified as a matter of urgency. To achieve this, the Committee recommends that the Government should consider alternative options for more effective governance and scrutiny of Network Rail so that it is properly accountable to passengers and other stakeholders. The current system, where the members to whom Network Rail's Board is accountable are effectively approved by the Board itself, is inadequate.
Network Rail should also:
Bring more of its strategic resources, such as overhead line engineering staff, back in house.
Introduce a programme to develop and maintain skills so that it always has a stable pool of core skills within the organisation.
Improve internal communications and communications with train operators as failings in this area make it impossible for senior managers to take appropriate action and resolve problems as quickly as possible.
Have greater transparency about financial incentives paid for by taxpayers and passengers, as proposed by the Office of Rail Regulator.
The White Paper
The Committee urges the Government to consider the possibility of building high speed lines where new lines are to be constructed. Hesitation now will mean years of avoidable misery and overcrowding on the network, it warns.
More electrification of the rail network should also take place because of the environmental benefits and improvements in capacity if offers.
MPs welcome the Government's commitment not to close railway lines and recommend that, if there is sound justification for reopening a line, this must be done.
On rolling stock, the promise of 1,300 new carriages is welcome but the Committee concludes that it is unlikely to relieve overcrowding significantly due to the growth in passenger numbers. The Government must also improve the way it purchases rolling stock so there is more consistency, to achieve value for money and to ensure that Britain can continue to have a rolling stock industry.
Pinch points on the network need to be eliminated, and the Government needs to integrate infrastructure investment better with other policies such as regional development plans so that rail capacity improvements can work with rather than against such policies. An important example is the North of England where eliminating pinch points and investing in infrastructure could help efforts to drive up economic growth and prosperity for the region.
The Committee is also concerned that the shift between taxpayers' subsidy of fares and the price passengers pay could undermine the growth in passenger numbers.
1. Committee Membership is as follows: Mrs Louise Ellman (Chairman) (Liverpool Riverside), Mr David Clelland (Tyne Bridge), Clive Efford (Eltham), Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering), Mr John Leech (Manchester Withington), Mr Eric Martlew (Carlisle), Mr Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin), David Simpson (Upper Bann), Mr Graham Stringer (Manchester Blackley), Mr David Wilshire (Spelthorne).
2. Transcripts of evidence sessions for the Committee's inquiries can be found on the Committee website at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmtran.htm
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