Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

A programme of success?

Posted in Great Britain, Politics by Chairman Pip on 4 June 2010

I apologise for taking so long to lay out here the government’s plans for railways. The nature of the Coalition has meant that there is no single manifesto of commitments to simply look to for policies, so the Con-Dems (or Lib-Cons, whichever you prefer) have had to write what is essentially a new manifesto for government, combining the “best bits” of each individual manifesto, with other bits thought up since the election. Laid out simply, the “policy document” as it relates to the railways includes the following aspirations: 

  • We will grant longer rail franchises in order to give operators the incentive to invest in the improvements passengers want – like better services, better stations, longer trains and better rolling stock.
  • We will reform the way decisions are made on which transport projects to prioritise, so that the benefits of low carbon proposals (including light rail schemes) are fully recognised.
  • We will make Network Rail more accountable to its customers.
  • We will establish a high speed rail network as part of our programme of measures to fulfil our joint ambitions for creating a low carbon economy. Our vision is of a truly national high speed rail network for the whole of Britain. Given financial constraints, we will have to achieve this in phases.
  • We support Crossrail and further electrification of the rail network.
  • We will turn the rail regulator into a powerful passenger champion.
  • We are committed to fair pricing for rail travel.

All good and fair aspirations. Network Rail certainly needs to be more accountable, while the Rail Regulator should be showing its teeth more. Fair pricing is what everyone wants. Electrification is an important goal that will in the long term make the railway more environmentally sustainable. Crossrail (as I’ve said numerous times) is important for London’s economy, which is important for the national economy, while the high speed network (however big it ends up being), is vital on a national basis to improve regional connections and to make space on the existing network. All of these things are good statements to make. But that’s all they are at the moment. Statements. What is probably needed is a strategic review of the railway requirements, based on the current financial situation. Some of these aspirations, especially the ones concerned with infrastructure, which requires big investment, may need to be scaled back, at least until the financial crisis is eased. Possibly the best way to ensure as much of this programme can be achieved is by changing the way that the DfT does things – move away from the constant micromanagement and let the people on the ground actually do things for themselves. The aspiration for longer franchises is the starting point, as that will then encourage the operators to invest more in their operations with then more of a guarantee of seeing a return. We can but hope that this will be the case.


One Response

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  1. Claire said, on 8 June 2010 at 3:39 am

    Yes, just statements are what they are atm but it’s nice to see how good they all are and, by the law of averages, you’d think at least a few of them will actually be achieved. Granting longer franchises shouldn’t be difficult or costly, so that’s a good and easy one to start with.

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