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Network Rail sets out £37.5bn spending plans for the next five years

Network Rail has set out a £37.5 billion spending programme for the next five years which will enable it to provide 170,000 extra commuter seats at peak times and increase freight capacity by 30%.09 Jan 2013

Its strategic business plans for 2014-19 propose extra trains between some northern cities, increased commuter capacity in London and the South East and reopening 31 miles of disused railway connecting the Scottish Borders with Edinburgh. It is also seeking to replace antiquated signalling equipment with 14 central operation centres, electrify more of the railway and 'future proof' critical infrastructure against the impact of changing weather patterns.

However the plans, which also set out efficiency savings worth 18% and propose cutting the annual public subsidy to between £2.6bn and £2.9bn by 2019, assume that fares will continue to rise by more than the cost of inflation each year to meet costs.

"As our railway gets busier the challenges get bigger and more complex," said David Higgins, chief executive of Network Rail. "We have entered an era of trade-offs. 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 plans have been submitted to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) for assessment and approval. Network Rail will publish its final delivery plan in March 2014.

Among the biggest projects set out in the plans are £900 million worth of improvements in and around Reading station to remove the "biggest bottleneck" on the Great Western Main Line, and the completion of the £600m redevelopment of Birmingham New Street station. The £560m 'Northern Hub' project will cut journey times between Manchester and Leeds and add an extra 700 services per day between cities across the north of England.

Network Rail also commits to supporting the Department for Transport in the creation of the 'HS2' high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham, intended to relieve capacity constraints on the West Coast Main Line. Adding additional services, as on other routes, would "not be enough", it said.

Alongside its business plans, Network Rail also published a document setting out ten longer term commitments. These include investing in new technology and infrastructure as a means of saving long-term costs, and building on existing partnerships with customers and suppliers.

"As an industry, we have achieved a huge amount, but we are already seeing the benefit of working more closely together with our customers and suppliers and that must remain at the heart of everything we do," Higgins said. "Our aim is to be a trusted leader in the industry as we work to build a better railway for a better Britain."

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