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Limited vision in white paper's growth plans

24 Aug 2007

'IT IS THE most ambitious strategy for growth on the railways in over 50 years', claimed UK Secretary of State for Transport Ruth Kelly, when she launched the white paper Delivering a Sustainable Railway on July 24.

Together with an accompanying Rail Technical Strategy, the white paper outlines the government's view of how the rail network should develop over the next 30 years. It sets out the longer-term vision supporting the High Level Output Specification and Statement of Funds Available which the government was required to provide to the Office of Rail Regulation by July 31 under the terms of the Railways Act 2005. ORR is currently reviewing Network Rail's income and expenditure projections in order to determine the structure of track access charges for Control Period 4 covering the five years from April 1 2009 (RG 2.07 p77).

The HLOS and SoFA published on July 24 relate to railway operations in England and Wales; the Scottish Ministers had already issued their equivalent statements earlier in the month (RG 8.07 p477). As well as setting targets for improved safety and better performance, the England and Wales HLOS looks at each of Network Rail's 23 routes to identify where capacity enhancement is needed. Growth of 22·5% is expected to add 180 million passenger-journeys a year by 2013-14.

The Department for Transport's Rail Group anticipates that increased revenue from growth and higher fares - recovered from train operators by reduced subsidies or higher franchise premium payments - plus efficiency improvements at Network Rail will reduce the amount of taxpayer's money being spent on the railway to around £3bn a year. This is intended to create a 'headroom' of £2·9bn, which with further borrowing by NR would fund capital investment totalling £9bn over the five-year period (Table I).

Specific projects identified in the HLOS are the upgrade of the Thameslink cross-city line in London, originally announced in 1994 at a cost of £650m, which is now expected to be completed by 2015 for a total of £5·5bn. A further £425m is allocated towards a £600m remodelling and grade-separation scheme at Reading to ease a long-standing bottleneck on the Great Western Main Line, and £128m will be provided towards the reconstruction of Birmingham New Street station.

With growing concern about overcrowding levels and the projected 22·5% growth in passenger traffic, Kelly announced that DfT Rail now plans to procure directly up to 1 300 additional coaches, to 'reduce average load factors'. Giving a 'net increase' in the fleet of around 10%, these vehicles will be allocated to key routes by negotiation with the franchise operators; around 900 vehicles for London & South East services, 300 for provincial cities and 100 for inter-city routes.

In addition, the government will permit Network Rail to invest up to £200m 'to enable work to start on a strategic freight network to accommodate freight growth'. DfT Rail has accepted projections of a 30% increase in tonnes lifted by 2013-14.

Long-term perspective

Looking beyond CP4, the white paper suggests that 'if the investment committed in this HLOS is maintained through future control periods … the measures described would be sufficient to meet growth on all routes until about 2030'.

DfT Rail is confident that 'cab-based signalling will be implemented on a greater proportion of the network' from the middle of the next decade, which 'will increase capacity by allowing a higher frequency of train services'. Train lengths will also be increased from eight or 10 cars to 12 or 16 where the infrastructure permits. So the white paper sees no need to start planning for any new lines.

The technical strategy also comes out against the construction of dedicated high speed lines or freight corridors, suggesting that future uncertainty favours mixed traffic railways to maximise flexibility. 'At present the balance of advantage would appear to favour new services running at conventional speeds', says the white paper.

And although the report insists that 'sustainability is at the heart of the government's commitments', there is no support for main line electrification. 'The right long-term solution will be the one that minimises the carbon footprint and energy bill', it says, adding that this could be influenced by the future mix of electricity generation 'and the rate at which options become available for low-carbon self-powered trains'.

DfT Rail is already taking the lead on the Intercity Express Programme to develop the next generation of 200 km/h trainsets for long-distance services, for which pre-series builds are scheduled to start testing on the East Coast and Great Western main lines in 2012. IEP is to be built in electric, diesel and dual-mode versions, and the white paper envisages that the trains 'will enter full passenger service from 2015'.

A cross-industry consultation is also to be launched for a new-generation of 'go-anywhere' diesel and electric multiple-units, which DfT Rail expects will be lighter and more environmentally-friendly than current designs.

On August 16 DfT Rail announced that three applicants had been shortlisted for IEP. They are the Alstom-Barclays Rail Group, the Express Rail Alliance comprising Bombardier Transportation, Siemens, Angel Trains and Babcock & Brown, and Hitachi Europe Ltd. A formal Invitation to Tender is to be issued later this year, with proposals to be returned in mid-2008; the award of the contract is expected at the end of next year or in early 2009.

Table I. Funding for railway activities in England and Wales, 2009-14, £bn

  2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 Total
Passenger revenue 6·7 7·3 7·8 8·4 9·0 39·2
SoFA 3·2 3·0 3·1 3·0 3·0 15·3
Other 0·7 0·8 0·8 0·8 0·8 3·1
Total income 10·6 11·0 11·7 12·2 12·8 57·6
Cost of passenger services 5·0 5·2 5·3 5·6 5·7 26·8
NR baseline OMR costs 4·3 4·1 4·1 3·9 3·8 20·2
NR financing payments 1·6 1·6 1·7 1·7 1·8 8·4
Total expenditure 10·8 10·9 11·1 11·2 11·4 55·4
Headroom (0·2) 0·1 0·6 1·0 1·4 2·9
Additional borrowing 1·6 1·7 1·5 0·7 0·5 6·1
Total cash of HLOS 1·5 1·9 2·1 1·7 1·9 9·0
Infrastructureenhancements 1·2 1·5 1·6 1·2 1·4 7·0
Additional rolling stock 0·2 0·2 0·3 0·3 0·3 1·2
Financing costs 0·1 0·1 0·2 0·2 0·3 0·6

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