First 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]