Network Rail is to move away from big projects in its next five-year funding period in favour of spending its cash on maintaining its current network.
Britain’s rail and track operator has published its plan from 2019 to 2024. The company could spend up to £47bn, with the amount set aside for new schemes falling by 33% and the total for current improvements rising by 25%. It also hopes to increase the number of female employees by 50%, or more than 3,000, to about 9,500. Network Rail currently employs 38,000 people.
Chief executive Mark Carne told the BBC that the new funding period would be “more focused on the day-to-day operations”. He said:
The last five years has been about huge projects, like Thameslink, Crossrail, Great Western electrification and Edinburgh-Glasgow electrification. The next control period is slightly different.
Mr Carne denied the move was a backwards step, adding: “I don’t think it’s less ambitious at all, I think it’s in a way more ambitious. “We have 20,000 miles of track and 4,500,000 people every day who depend on the railway and I think it should be our primary responsibility to make sure that we run that network reliably and efficiently for them.” A total of £18.5bn will go into the operation and maintenance side of the business and a similar amount will be allocated for renewing and replacing old infrastructure like signalling systems. There is £10.1bn set aside for new projects, with most of that likely to go on improving the line between Manchester and Leeds. That would probably go on upgrading existing tunnels, bridges and lines rather than a new Northern Powerhouse Railway. The previous plan was called the biggest investment in Britain’s railways since the Victorian era, with large-scale electrification supposed to reduce the cost of trains, increase reliability and reduce carbon emissions. However, projects around the country have been shelved and Mr Carne added:
We’ve discovered the cost of electrification of the network is very expensive. It’s very difficult to do because we have so little time to intervene and work on the network at night. So it’s cost more to do that. In the meantime the trains are getting better.