Rail chiefs set out new industry plan

A new railway industry plan has been announced which aims to cut costs by £1.3bn a year by the end of this decade.

The programme covers the period 2014 to 2019 and aims to provide extra services, improved passenger information and quicker journeys.

"The railways are booming, with more and more people choosing rail. Closer collaboration within the industry will deliver even more efficiencies," said Network Rail group strategy director Paul Plummer.

"This revenue growth and improved efficiency taken together provide governments with real choices to consider, choices around the appropriate balance between subsidy, investment and fares."

Plans include £5.6bn-worth of schemes, including the Northern Hub - a £560m plan to deliver more than 700 extra services a day between Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle upon Tyne and Sheffield.

Journey time improvements are promised in the East Midlands, Yorkshire, Bristol and Oxford areas and electrification of the Midland main line, the north trans-Pennine line, and further electrification schemes in Scotland.

Improvements will be made to a number of stations including Fenchurch Street in London and Liverpool Central, as well as a £200m scheme to improve services between Inverness and Aberdeen in Scotland.

By better linking Britain's major cities, an extra 180,000 peak-time seats could be provided, as well as accommodating a 30 per cent increase in freight.

Rail chiefs also announced plans to move from 800 signal boxes to 14 modern signalling centres.

The hoped-for schemes, which will need Government approval, are in addition to £4.9bn-worth of ongoing projects such as the Thameslink and Crossrail schemes in London and already-announced electrification schemes such as the Great Western line.

"Rail has a bright future in supporting a successful green economy in the years ahead," said Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies.

"This plan shows how we can do that by providing a better quality of service to growing numbers of passengers at a more affordable cost."

The plan comes as season-ticket holders face average fare rises of 8 per cent in the new year at a time when passenger numbers are rising on a network where rail costs are seen as too high.

"We welcome this plan and the industry's commitment to making the railways achieve better value for money," said rail minister Theresa Villiers. 

"The ambitious plans being set out by the industry today mark a good starting point for the conversation we will be having with them about the priorities for future improvements to our rail network which are so vital for growth and this country's long-term competitiveness."

Passengers face an annual fare rise in regulated fares, which include season tickets, of the retail price index inflation level plus 3 per cent for each of the next three years.

The government has said it hopes inflation-busting annual rises will eventually become a thing of the past.

The rail industry had worked on the basis that fares would rise by 1 per cent above inflation after 2014, according to Roberts, although he denied a suggestion that this indicated the industry was cynical about the government's hopes for lower fares.

The plan said 600 new rail carriages would be needed to cope with demand and that this was over and above the new carriages already promised.

Rail chiefs added that with the completion of the Crossrail and Thameslink projects, London peak-time capacity would increase by 30 per cent.

The signal centre plan - a long-term, 30-year scheme - would result in the loss of signallers' jobs but this would take place "over many years", Plummer said.

Overall, the plan's investment proposals could generate social and economic benefits for the UK worth four-and-a-half times the cost of the schemes, rail chiefs said.

"Passengers want value-for-money fares and a reliable, frequent service with a good chance of getting a seat," said Anthony Smith, chief executive of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus.

"An industry plan is welcome but what passengers will want to be clear about is what is the passenger plan? What does this all mean for train performance, the ability to get a seat and fares?"

Bob Crow, the general secretary of the RMT transport union, added: "We have fought for investment in the railways in the teeth of the scandalous profiteering from the private train operators that has drained billions of pounds away from the industry, money which could have put train services in the UK in the fast lane.

"We welcome developments that deliver jobs and improved services but they should be publicly run and owned in a clear break from the fast buck approach to rail that has dragged us into the slow lane since privatisation."

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