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Rail projects will go ahead but will take longer

Britain's rail passengers, already facing huge hikes in train fares in the new year, have received mixed news in a major rail announcement from the Government.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said there would be 2,100 new rail carriages on the network by May 2019. But only 650 of them will be delivered by 2014 - far fewer than the 1,300 promised by the previous government.

Hammond also said that electrification of commuter services on the Great Western route between London and Didcot, Oxford and Newbury would go ahead.

But he put back until the new year a decision on whether the rest of the Great Western line to south west England and Wales would also be electrified. And he also deferred a decision on how to replace the ageing Intercity 125 trains.

In a statement to Parliament, Hammond said: "Over the next four years we will provide £14 billion of funding to Network Rail to support capital maintenance and infrastructure investment; and £750 million for high speed rail. We will also fund the Crossrail project, the Tube upgrade programme, light rail projects in Birmingham, Tyneside, Nottingham and Sheffield; and provide additional funding to franchisees for extra rolling stock."

While committing the Government to funding "in its entirety" the north-south cross-London Thameslink scheme, Hammond said it would finish in 2018 - two years later than planned - due to re-organisation of work at London Bridge station. He has been able to announce a figure of 2,100 new carriages by including not only the Thameslink trains but also those that will run on another cross-London scheme - Crossrail - that will also not be finished until 2018.

Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph commented: "The reality is that, for the immediate future, passengers face huge fare increases along with continued overcrowding and in some cases poor facilities."

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, welcomed the announcement but said it "still leaves several questions unanswered".

He added that the Intercity Express Programme had started five years ago and had already cost more than £20 million in consultancy fees but had "yet to produce a single carriage".

The Intercity Express Programme (IEP) was halted by the Labour government earlier this year and an independent review was set up which reported to the new Government in June.

The Government said it was looking at two options - a revised bid from the original preferred bidder Agility, a consortium led by Japanese company Hitachi, for a mixed fleet of electric and 'bi-mode' trains; and an alternative for a fleet of all-electric trains that could be coupled to new diesel locomotives for running beyond the electrified parts of the network.

Hammond said passengers would not be required to change trains for travel beyond the wires, and also ruled out a wholesale refurbishment of the diesel Intercity 125 fleet.

Should Hitachi be successful, it plans to develop a site at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham in a project that will create hundreds of jobs and be worth an estimated £660 million to the north east England economy over 20 years.

A spokesman for Hitachi said: "We are disappointed that there is yet no decision on our bid for the IEP, and therefore on our plans to bring jobs to the UK. We will be continuing our talks with the Department for Transport and will consider our position in the light of these."

Jeremy Candfield, director general of the Railway Industry Association, commented: "The go-ahead for Thameslink and the two electrification schemes in the North West and the Thames Valley is another important step forward for the railways, and will benefit a large number of travellers, as well as helping to preserve and strengthen the skills base of the rail industry, but there are still some key decisions to be made, particularly on replacing the InterCity train fleet and the Great Western Electrification.

"With the reduction or deferral of the prospective train orders announced in 2008, we will also be seeking clarification on how franchisees will be encouraged to order further rolling stock to accommodate the continuing growth in passenger numbers," he added.

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