If approved, the plan will provide 170,000 extra commuter seats at peak times by 2019

�37bn rail investment plan unveiled

A £37.5bn plan to run and expand the railways in the period 2014-19 was unveiled by Network Rail (NR).

If approved, the plan will provide 170,000 extra commuter seats at peak times by 2019, by which time the railways could be carrying as many as 225 million more passengers than at present.

But despite the big investment plans, NR envisages no overall improvement in train punctuality compared with the trains-on-time target for 2009-2014.

A figure of 92.5 per cent punctuality was set for the period 2009-2014 – a target which NR has failed to meet.

In today's business plan, the company said it expected to achieve a trains-on-time figure of 92.5 per cent "by the end" of the period 2014-2019.

NR also warned that even with the extra trains and seats this would "not be enough" on the busy West Coast Main Line where the added capacity of the London to Birmingham HS2 high-speed rail line project was, it said, "essential".

And NR chief executive Sir David Higgins added, ominously, that the industry, under pressure to cut costs, had entered "the era of trade-offs".

He went on: "Increasingly we have to balance the need to build more infrastructure, run trains on time and cut costs, and in many areas choices will need to be made."

The NR plans come at a time of passenger anger at the above-inflation 4.2 per cent season ticket average fare rises this month.

Publication of the high salaries and attractive bonuses of some of the bosses of the train operators' parent companies has also done little to assuage commuter ire.

To be agreed with and approved by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), the NR plan envisages improvements that by 2019 will:

:: See 225 million more passengers per year travelling and 355,000 more trains in service – the highest numbers ever;

:: Provide 20 per cent extra morning peak seats into central London and 32 per cent into large regional cities in England and Wales;

:: Provide 700 more trains a day linking key northern cities and a 10-minute reduction in journey time between Manchester and Leeds;

:: See 30 per cent more freight being carried than today;

:: Cut CO2 emissions per passenger by 37 per cent and reduce risk at level crossings by 8 per cent;

:: Plan a move away from more than 800 signal boxes to 14 major operations centres;

:: Reduce the cost of running Britain's railways by a further 18 per cent and cut annual public subsidy to between £2.6bn and £2.9bn in 2019 – down from £4.5bn in 2009 and £7bn in 2004.

Projects include various electrification schemes, including the Great Western and Midland Main Lines, station improvements at Birmingham New Street and Reading in Berkshire, and reopening 31 miles of railways in Scotland closed under the Beeching cuts of 50 years ago.

Sir David said: "One million more trains run every year than 10 years ago, more passengers arrive on time than ever before, our safety record is one of the best in Europe and, despite the daily challenges we face, customer satisfaction is at record levels.

"Successive governments have made this possible by looking beyond the short term and recognising the critical importance of the railway to Britain's future."

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said: "While we support any plans to expand and invest in Britain's railways, you cannot seriously expect to safely increase capacity while at the same time the government is looking to axe key frontline staff on trains, track and stations.

"Those cuts to safety-critical staff are right at the core of Sir Roy McNulty's government rail review and we repeat our call for his plans to be stopped in light of the surge in demand for rail services identified by Network Rail."

He went on: "If the government press on with the jobs cuts plans, they will simply be cramming more and more people into an overcrowded and unreliable service where safety is compromised and the profits of the private train operators are prioritised. That is simply a recipe for disaster."

Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) chief executive Richard Price said: "Ministers have shown huge faith in what the railways can add to Britain's society and economy, committing to around £20bn-worth of public money at a time when there is little money to go around.

"Key to maintaining rail's success will be openly justifying this significant commitment of public money. Taxpayers significantly fund the railways, and have every right see where this money is being spent."

He added that the NR plan "demonstrates the company's ambition to deliver an even better railway for Britain".

Price continued: "ORR will now scrutinise the plan on behalf of rail users and taxpayers to ensure every penny is made to count and that all those involved in delivering the plan work together to achieve the highest levels of efficiency and best possible value for money.

"Our analysis, informed by public views, will focus on ensuring NR delivers the right plans, in the right ways, at the right cost."

Michael Roberts, chief executive of the Association of Train Operating Companies, said: "We aim to build on today's near record levels of customer satisfaction by combining the best of the public and private sectors to provide newer trains, quicker journeys and more seats.

"Early clarity from government on the franchising and regulatory framework for rail will be vital in allowing train companies, Network Rail and our suppliers to deliver the best possible deal for passengers and taxpayers."

Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA rail union, warned ministers against big annual fare hikes to pay for rail expansion.

He said: "We obviously back rail investment to improve the service but passengers have already suffered enough pain with a decade of annual inflation-plus fare increases.

"They should not now be expected to face another six years of even higher fares. No one expects motorists to pay more for new roads or air passengers to pay for new runways. Well rail passengers should not be singled out to pay for new lines.

"They have been persecuted enough already."

Anthony Smith, chief executive of rail customer watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Passengers will welcome the fact that Network Rail and train companies are working together on a plan to deliver passenger and government priorities – more trains on time, and more seats.

"Our research shows that the three clear priorities for passengers are value for money, reliability and the ability to find a seat.

"This work must be passenger-focused in the planning and delivery. Improvements in satisfaction are welcome, but we would like to see an earlier date for setting a satisfaction target.

"We are interested to see how all this will be paid for. Passengers already put in roughly £2 for every pound spent by the taxpayer. 

"It is critical that industry tackles its value-for-money offering, reducing costs without cutting services, to head off another five years of above-inflation fare increases."

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