Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

A new age has come

Posted in Great Britain, Politics by Chairman Pip on 25 May 2010

So, the new government has made it’s financial intentions clear – £6bn of public spending cuts this financial year, with very little not open to being targeted. And thus it is that there will be close to £700m cut from the transport budget. Of course, the DfT is responsible for transport as a whole, so it won’t just be rail that feels the pain. Nevertheless, be prepared for certain things not being able to be done. Network Rail will lose £100m from its government grant, while TfL loses out to the tune of £108m. Perhaps the most major of these announcements concerns the rolling stock order – of the planned 1300 vehicles that Labour stated it would purchase (the number of which then continued to change), only those purchases where contracts have already been signed will continue, which (off the top of my head) covers the DMUs for Chiltern Railways, London Overground and London Midland and the EMUs for ScotRail and NXEA, plus the Pendolino lengthening for Virgin Trains. Any “planned spend” orders for 2010-11, where the contracts have not been signed, will be dropped. Not a dicky bird spoken about the new rolling stock for Thameslink, which is expected to cost around £1bn but, given the investment in the route, it doesn’t seem likely that the planned high capacity rolling stock won’t go with it. As regards major projects, there is a commitment to Crossrail, on the proviso that it delivers “value for money”. I’d therefore expect that the branch to Abbey Wood will be put on hold to help save cost. One good thing may come in that the Government may decide that, rather than having two expensive designs of train for Thameslink and Crossrail (which will essentially do the same job), they will go for a single uniform design. There is also going to be a Draft Bill (announced this morning in the Queen’s Speech) towards the construction of High Speed 2, which the government can’t really go back on given both coalition partners made it a manifesto commitment. In addition, it should be hoped that the planned electrification projects, most notably of the Great Western Main Line, will still go ahead. However, in spite of this, the new age of rail will be one of austerity, at least for now. Grandiose projects will, for the most part, end up on the back burner. But, that doesn’t mean the Government should not look to improve – there are myriad small local projects that, for not much money, will significantly improve connectivity and service at a local level, while initiatives  from the private and voluntary sectors, such as the Go! Cooperative, will remove much of the burden from the public sector. ROSCOs should be given a freer hand to purchase rolling stock for the TOCs, allowing a return of private money into rolling stock provision (which was taken away with the 1300 vehicle plan, intended to be run by the DfT). Heritage operators should receive funding so that those that seek to can connect with the national network. Of course, Mr Potato Head has come out and said that the cut means that thousands of workers will lose their jobs, and services will suffer causing more and more people to return to their cars:

Today is just the opening shots in a cuts and austerity war that could ram a gaping hole in the UK’s public services and jack up mass unemployment to Thatcherite levels and beyond.

But then he would say that wouldn’t he, because he lives in a fairy land with marshmallow snowmen and pixie dust. The fact is that cuts were always going to come, whether it was this year or next. Not even Chairman Gordon can deny that. But this situation can be taken as an opportunity for investment at a much more local level, which will give people a greater investment in their own local services. Yes, the age of austerity has arrived, and fuck-a-doodle-do. But this doesn’t have to be the 12 storey crisis (with magnificent entrance hall, 24 hour porterage, carpeting throughout and a sign on the roof saying “This is a Large Crisis”) that some people make out it will be.

This is a large crisis

This is a large crisis (actually, no it isn't)

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