Spending review impact, part 1: trains

Class 319 electric multiple unit on Thameslink servicesFirst in a series of short articles looking at what effect the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review may have on transport in Greater Manchester

I’ve been holding back on writing about spending decisions to come: it’s all about numbers, which aren’t very exciting, plus it’s not particularly happy reading. Much more fun to write splashy features about cool stuff like new hybrid buses – woo! But it needs to be done, so we’ll break it down by mode to make the going a little easier to digest – and given last week’s announcement, we may as well start with trains.

With the news of £8 billion of investment, the railway industry seems to have done well out of recent policy decisions. Perhaps not surprising – never underestimate the middle-class commuter vote. A closer look at the details though, and we can see that £6 billion of that headline figure (75%) is being spent on infrastructure and rolling stock for the Thameslink scheme in London. Not quite as much for other parts of the country. The North West will however get electrification of several lines, at a cost of around £300 million. The following lines are slated to be wired-up:

  • Manchester to Newton-le-Willows (due 2013) – allows electric trains between Manchester and Scotland, diversionary route between London and Manchester
  • Newton-le-Willows to Liverpool – allows electric trains between Liverpool and Manchester/Warrington Bank Quay, diversionary routes between London and Liverpool
  • Huyton to Wigan – allows electric trains between Liverpool and Wigan/Preston
  • Preston to Blackpool – allows electric trains between Liverpool and Blackpool, reintroduce through-service between Blackpool and London
  • Manchester to Preston via Chorley (by 2016) – allows electric trains between Manchester and Blackpool

Services between Manchester and Scotland are likely to be operated by 9 new electric trains of four-car length, which will offer more seats than the standard three-car diesel trains currently in operation with First Transpennine Express. The local services provided in the main by Northern Rail are more likely to see second-hand trains from London: four-car electric trains (pictured above) currently used on Thameslink services in London. These will need a new home once 1,200 new carriages enter service on Thameslink – working out at 300 four-car trains, or 240 five-car trains.

The sting in the tail for commuters is that they’ll be helping to pay for these improvements. It seems like a case of money-upfront, as regulated rail fares are due to rise by an average of 6.2% in January – though we suspect the train operating companies are making up for the lower-than-expected fare rises of RPI +1% when the bottom fell out of the economy. (And hasn’t it always been the case that pricing people off the railways means you don’t have to invest as much in more capacity?) With RPI +3% fare increases for the next three years, that will see regulated train fares rise by around 10% in real terms. Commuters will be expecting the train companies to deliver a much improved service.

There will also be moves to cut the cost of the railway industry to the taxpayer through efficiency savings. Sir Roy McNulty is leading a review into spending on rail and is due to report next year. Ideas in the pipeline include Network Rail reducing the cost of maintaining infrastructure, longer rail franchises cutting down on bureaucracy and extracting more investment from operators, and perhaps even renegotiating the terms of existing franchises. If this “Plan A” doesn’t work, then his Plan B may well have to be to cut services. Although he has been at pains to deny that any list has yet been drawn up, I’m sure that our readers can imagine the kind of rural lines that might be most at risk.

[Image credit: "First Capital Connect . 319375 , Luton Station . 27th-March-2010" by Andrew Harvey-Adams on Flickr]

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About James McCollom

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This entry was posted in Politics, Trains and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Spending review impact, part 1: trains

  1. Mackenzie Soley says:

    75% of costs is part of the Thameslink Programme?

    Er not its not. The £5.5bn (not £6bn) project is about half way through so there’s a fair amount already spent. The amount of new trains is £2bn so not so much small change but it was an already announced scheme that been under way for the last two years. What has been affected is the timescale for the big job at Lonon Bridge.

    Note also that the reason for the increases in carriages is that they will be fixed length of either 8 car or 12 cars so no 4 or 5 car services. The fact the NW and GW are getting these units is not wanting to scrap the units and actually help make the scheme cheap enough to be pushed through. If you didn’t get these train then no way would the electification go ahead.

    Also no mention that High Speed rail is cost some £750m in fee’s without anything actually happening. This figure would allow for a brand new fleet for electric train and the whole of the Northern Hub to be built.

    The whole tone seems to be very negitive. Simple fact is the Thameslink route makes up something like 70% of the top most overcrowded trains in the UK and the fact is more people use the service so there is cash by raising fares to provide this programme. As for it being a London project, yes there is a large part of benefits in London but it will actually benefit the whole of the South East. Its a regional project.

    Not to mention that out of the whole announcement NOTHING is new. Its a case of them suspending everything then re-announcing it as investment after delaying it. In fcat they claim part of the investment is trains that will be in service in under three months. How they can claim this is their work when the trains were actually part finished before they even got the votes is beyond me. More spin and lies to try and make themselves look good.

    • James McCollom says:

      Any cascaded electric trains from Thameslink will surely be an improvement over the small diesel railbuses we currently have in the north west – I’ve no concerns about second-hand trains, provided they get some TLC before they make the journey up north, and offer more capacity than the trains they are replacing. I’ve nothing against the Thameslink project – indeed, it’s a pity that successive governments failed to fund it to the extent that its original moniker, “Thameslink 2000″, is so laughable.

      You’re right that it is mostly reannouncement (of schemes that the Labour administration themselves announced several times over) but we’re glad for anything we can get right now – particularly given the axe hanging over other services. High Speed 2 and the Northern Hub are projects I want to blog about in the future, but not something we’ve touched on so far.

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