MPs set out priorities for railway investment

15 February 2010

Wider electrification of the network and effort to address capacity problems across the North should form the Government’s investment priorities for the railways over the coming decade, says the House of Commons Transport Committee

In a report published today, the Committee also welcomes the Government’s change of policy on high speed rail but warn that investment in new infrastructure of this kind must not detract from necessary medium-term investments on the "classic" rail network.

Launching the report, Chairman Louise Ellman MP said:

"It’s paramount we do not deprive future generations of a lasting legacy of good transport services. Investments made now or in the near future should reflect long-term needs of the economy and society."

The Committee welcomes the scale of the current £35 billion investment programme, which covers the period 2009–2014, much of which is to be spent on increasing capacity in London, through projects such as Thameslink and Crossrail. It acknowledges, however, that investment levels from 2014 to 2019 may not be as generous.

Tough decisions will have to be made about priorities for the network. The Committee calls for a realignment in the balance between investment in London and the South East and elsewhere in the country.

North bottleneck

The Committee says a clear priority must be given post–2014 to addressing the capacity constraints at the Manchester Hub. This is the main rail bottleneck in the North and critically affects the operation of both passenger and freight services across the whole of northern England, including Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle.

Further electrification of the network—particularly the Midland Main Line between London and Sheffield—should also be given top priority, says the Committee. Electrified trains can offer economic and environmental benefits, such as faster journey times, more seats, greater reliability, improved air quality and lower carbon emissions than their diesel equivalents. Approximately 40 per cent of the network is currently electrified.

The Committee also recommended:

  • The Government should take a more pro-active policy position that encourages schemes to bring old lines back into service or to open either new lines or stations. Government should not only encourage private investment through the franchise system but fund schemes forecast to enjoy high passenger patronage directly through the national rail investment programme
  • Ministers must set out their rolling stock plans as soon as possible to provide the industry with certainty about future capabilities
  • Freight investment in the medium-term should, at the very least, be maintained at current levels and the Government should continue to encourage the expansion of the network
  • The methodology applied by Government to prioritise schemes needs to become more dynamic to integrate wider social, environmental and economic considerations, including the impact of transport investment on the GDP of regions

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