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Network Rail’s £1bn budget cut ‘very disappointing’, industry body says

Network Rail has had its budget cut by £1bn in the Chancellor’s Spending Review, despite recent commitments from the government to invest heavily in infrastructure.

At the end of November, the multi-year National Infrastructure Strategy was announced with promises to kickstart the UK’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic by investing in construction and infrastructure.

Despite this, the Chancellor’s Spending Review gave National Rail budget a £9.4bn budget for the 2019-2024 period, down nearly 10 per cent on the £10.4bn previously calculated by the Office of Rail and Road.

While Rishi Sunak did not mention the reduction in his Spending Review speech, it will likely have a major impact on forthcoming projects for Britain’s rail network.

The Railway Industry Association (RIA) called the decision “very disappointing”.

“Rail enhancements are essential in ensuring our rail network is fit for the future, improving reliability, connectivity, customer experience and helping to reduce carbon emissions,” said Darren Caplan, RIA chief executive. “Taking our foot off the pedal now on rail investment will not help for when passengers return following the coronavirus pandemic.

“The rail industry still doesn’t have sight of what rail enhancement projects are coming up. We were told earlier this year that there are more than 80 projects in the government’s Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline, yet with the news today that there is over £1bn less in the funding pot, it is unclear what schemes will be going ahead and what will not be.

“We strongly urge the government to publish this list of rail enhancement projects as soon as possible, to help rail businesses plan and invest, at what is such a critical time for the UK economy.”

Despite the cuts, Network Rail’s budget for operations, maintenance and renewals is unchanged and a further £2.1bn was allocated to cover losses incurred by private train companies due to drastically lower passenger numbers as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the last few weeks, the National Skills Academy for Rail has warned that the UK faces a severe shortage of skilled workers, who will be needed for further expansion of railway networks.

The oft-delayed Crossrail project was also granted an additional £825m in funding in order to get the project completed by 2022.

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “Funding is awarded to projects from the government budget once a business case is presented for approval. We will be working closely with the Department for Transport in the months ahead to review and assess our future upgrade plans to achieve the best possible outcomes for taxpayers and passengers.”

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