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UK rail plans need more certainty to attract private investment, industry body says

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The government should lay out a timeline confirming its plans for major works on the UK’s railways in order to attract more private investment, an industry group has said.

On the eve of transport secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan’s speech at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, the Railway Industry Association (RIA) called for greater certainty on rail restructuring, enhancements, major projects and long-term funding plans.

The RIA said that this certainty would ensure that UK rail has the funding it needs and could help to boost confidence amongst private investors. In particular, it wants the government to confirm the timing for the restructuring of Great British Railways (GBR).

Originally announced in a government white paper in May 2021, itself the outcome of the 'Williams–Shapps Rail Review', the GBR is a new public sector body that will absorb Network Rail and take control of Britain’s railways and infrastructure whilst contracting private operators to run the trains.

In its 'Rail Network Enhancement Pipeline' (RNEP) from 2018, the government committed to publishing a pipeline of work on rail every year, but it has been almost three years since the last iteration was made public, the RIA said.

It added that the uncertainty and speculation around projects such as HS2, East West Rail and Northern Powerhouse Rail damages confidence and jeopardises investments in the megaprojects.

RIA’s chief executive Darren Caplan said: “UK rail is well positioned to support the government in its mission to boost economic growth, with the industry contributing £43bn of GVA [Gross Value Added], supporting 710,000 jobs, providing £14bn in tax revenues to the Treasury and generating £2.50 in the wider economy for every pound spent on the railway sector.

“Rail’s potential to deliver economic growth will be hampered by uncertainty and ambiguity if we do not get confirmation of the Government’s plans.

“As the new transport secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan prepares to address the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, we urge her and her colleagues in government to provide the clarity the railway industry needs on Great British Railways, the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline, major projects and long-term funding.

“By doing so, the government would not only help to unleash the potential of rail to help drive economic growth, it would also provide a boost to connectivity and capacity, which the country is going to need in future if it is to link and level up communities across the UK”.

The UK’s rail services have been hit by repeated strikes this summer due to ongoing negotiations between unions and the train operators.

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