Network Rail publishes its five year plan

Published 11th January 2013 takes a look at the 5 year plan to develop the UKs railways

Network Rail (NR) has published its five year plan in which it looks at recent achievements and what they propose to deliver in the five year financial period from April 2014.This is known as Control Period 5 (CP5). This is a summary of the many national and local radio interviews our Phil Marsh made on publication of the report.

Selective statistics

Some of the statistics are slightly misleading. For example, the number of passengers arriving on time for the reporting period 2002-3 was the year after the Hatfield crash when network performance was at a historical low. So this provides an artificially low benchmark to start with.

The numbers given for cost per train kilometre are also slightly skewed as these will have been reduced because of the huge increase in the number of train kilometres compared to 10 years ago. It must be acknowledged though that the long period of investment has reduced the cost of the operational railway and considerably improved it – as regular users will know.

Passenger numbers and train kilometres have also increased because the busy West Coast Main Line is now a 7 day railway whereas 10 years ago it was plagued with weekend blockages for upgrade works to take place. There was very little weekend travel attempted while coping with rail replacement services (buses).

This does not detract from the attractiveness of rail compared against road or air travel and as NR Chairman David Higgins says, the WCML will soon be at capacity despite extra trains, longer trains and platforms.

Safe but not attractive?

The railway provides a safe method of travel, 4 people are killed on London’s roads a week alone for example. Apart from the suffering this causes, there is a huge financial cost to road accidents. It has been estimated that the average cost of a road accident is estimated at £500,000 when Police, Fire brigade, Ambulance, NHS and congestion costs are included. The railways are good value for money in safety terms and the safety record is the best in Europe.

Half a Century from Beeching

NR is correct in saying we have a Victorian built railway which still constrains us today. The Beeching cuts implemented 50 years ago further constrain expansion as most trackbeds have been long gone.

The Oxford-Cambridge route is a classic example where the former section running for just six miles east of Bedford, has now been built on. This has prevented what would be a vital route to reopen end to end. It will however re-open for services between Bedford, Milton Keynes, Aylesbury and Oxford in 2016 which is great news.

The new way of working

The Wessex Deep Alliance as called is a project where Southwest Trains and NR collaborate in running the railway sweeping away contractual issues. This has not yet delivered a panacea for the many legal interfaces on the privatised railway. This is not for the lack of efforts by individuals but the processes are stifling any innovation.

NR is still a difficult company to work with on 3rd party schemes, staff are willing but the processes are cumbersome but their planned 10 staff values will help turn this around.

Technology benefits

Track maintenance is becoming world leading with huge advances in technology. And with less and less time to maintain the track because of the higher density of train services, this was an essential workstream to introduce.

The economy benefits from the railways

In 2002 5.9 million trains ran and in 2012, 7.2million trains operated, an increase of 22%. This is a bit misleading as many of the trains are longer than before so it is the increase in seats provided on trains is just as important, and there are now around 50% more passengers carried than a decade ago. This combined with NR reducing its costs (and they will continue to fall) is excellent news and brings more efficiency.

Object to everything

ALL taxpayers and not just passengers must support this proposed railway growth as railways are a driver of society and its economics. Remove a train service and people object. Try to build a railway line, people object. NR has a tough job against these objectors to new routes and they are often in a no-win position wanting to do the right thing but are stymied by Objectors.

NR will have to address climate change which will be a tough challenge as to how and where to invest funds. And how to deal with objectors who do not want any lineside vegetation clearance.

Making London Work

The relationship between capacity, cost and reliability (punctuality) is the crucial one to manage. The more trains there are, the less chance of a quick service recovery after an incident. Therefore punctuality will suffer as more trains crowd onto the network. In the decade from 2003 Network Rail says that the average ticket price has gone from £5.06 to £5.21 and of this, the NR operating cost has reduced from £3.57 to £1.62.

London is forecast to carry 36% more passengers by 2031. The railways make London and every other city work.

Freight on rail has boomed helping ease congestion on roads, emissions and reducing costs to business as up to 70 HGVs are taken off the roads with just one freight train.

Level Crossings

Network Rail correctly makes much of their level crossing safety and closure campaign. This is really a railway funded road safety issue as Network Rail are working to protect road users from themselves as there are many cases of drivers dodging barriers and ignoring warning lights. Nearby residents and landowners do not make NRs job any easier as they fight when asked to give up land to replace a crossing with a bridge for example. Others campaign against cutting back trees or hedges to provide better sightlines for all.

Reliable Infrastructure and timetabling

Reliable Infrastructure. The WCML has had its problems and the Rail Regulator has given notice of punitive action to try and make them improve. One of the problems is that there is a high volume of fast and heavy trains running by 12 operators and limited engineering hours available for maintenance.

NR bought a new timetabling system a few years ago which didn’t work and this is now being rectified. It was anything but the Integrated Train Planning System it was billed as when implemented.

Today’s Investment Rules

Network Rail will invest they say, £4bn annually taking their debt to over £30billion soon. It is guaranteed by the Government.

Today we have a far better system of planning than under British Rail days. Funding them was at the whim of the Government and mainly on a year to year basis which left the railways at the mercy of cutbacks.

Now under successive Governments, there is a five year funding plan agreed by the rail industry and the Government. This has helped expand rail usage and better for society as a whole than cramming more and more traffic on the roads.

We are in an area of huge rail investment, probably the biggest in capacity terms for well over a century.

Crowing to end?

This will disappoint the Bob Crows and all Objectors to new railway lines but national interest must take precedence over self-interest.

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