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Planning ahead to meet future demand

Posted: 4 December 2013 | Stephen Hammond MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, UK | No comments yet

It is 20 years since Britain’s railways were privatised. At the time it was seen as a risky move, even though the network had grown increasingly unreliable and inefficient under state operator British Rail. Responsibility for tracks and trains was split, and private companies were invited to bid for regional franchises. Two decades later, the benefits of privatisation are clear. Passenger journeys have doubled to a level not seen since the 1920s, rail freight has grown by half, and revenue is up by more than £3 billion. And on a network roughly the same size as then, our railway today is running 4,000 extra services a day. But how our railway will continue to succeed over the next 20 years is now the key question. Importantly, it will benefit from a step change in investment. Rising passenger and freight demand since privatisation had stretched the capacity of the railway to its limits. In response, the Government has embarked on the biggest rail modernisation programme in Britain for generations.

One of the tangible benefits will be an extra 140,000 seats at peak times by the end of the decade. Between 2014 and 2019, infrastructure operator Network Rail is planning to spend over £35 billion to run and expand the railway. Of that, the Government is investing over £9 billion to deliver major improvements across the country.

We are electrifying 850 miles of track, and spending £5.8 billion on new rolling stock for our main north-south lines. We are also building Crossrail – a new high capacity railway for London and the South East.

It is 20 years since Britain’s railways were privatised. At the time it was seen as a risky move, even though the network had grown increasingly unreliable and inefficient under state operator British Rail. Responsibility for tracks and trains was split, and private companies were invited to bid for regional franchises. Two decades later, the benefits of privatisation are clear. Passenger journeys have doubled to a level not seen since the 1920s, rail freight has grown by half, and revenue is up by more than £3 billion. And on a network roughly the same size as then, our railway today is running 4,000 extra services a day. But how our railway will continue to succeed over the next 20 years is now the key question. Importantly, it will benefit from a step change in investment. Rising passenger and freight demand since privatisation had stretched the capacity of the railway to its limits. In response, the Government has embarked on the biggest rail modernisation programme in Britain for generations.One of the tangible benefits will be an extra 140,000 seats at peak times by the end of the decade. Between 2014 and 2019, infrastructure operator Network Rail is planning to spend over £35 billion to run and expand the railway. Of that, the Government is investing over £9 billion to deliver major improvements across the country.We are electrifying 850 miles of track, and spending £5.8 billion on new rolling stock for our main north-south lines. We are also building Crossrail – a new high capacity railway for London and the South East.

It is 20 years since Britain’s railways were privatised. At the time it was seen as a risky move, even though the network had grown increasingly unreliable and inefficient under state operator British Rail. Responsibility for tracks and trains was split, and private companies were invited to bid for regional franchises. Two decades later, the benefits of privatisation are clear. Passenger journeys have doubled to a level not seen since the 1920s, rail freight has grown by half, and revenue is up by more than £3 billion. And on a network roughly the same size as then, our railway today is running 4,000 extra services a day. But how our railway will continue to succeed over the next 20 years is now the key question. Importantly, it will benefit from a step change in investment. Rising passenger and freight demand since privatisation had stretched the capacity of the railway to its limits. In response, the Government has embarked on the biggest rail modernisation programme in Britain for generations.

One of the tangible benefits will be an extra 140,000 seats at peak times by the end of the decade. Between 2014 and 2019, infrastructure operator Network Rail is planning to spend over £35 billion to run and expand the railway. Of that, the Government is investing over £9 billion to deliver major improvements across the country.

We are electrifying 850 miles of track, and spending £5.8 billion on new rolling stock for our main north-south lines. We are also building Crossrail – a new high capacity railway for London and the South East.

Despite this increased level of expenditure, we will be running out of capacity on our busiest routes in the years ahead. Inter-city rail demand has doubled in 15 years – faster than the rest of the network.

To address these challenges, we are pressing ahead with HS2 – a new high-speed network for Britain running from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. Construction is due to start in 2017.

While high-speed rail will speed-up journeys and improve connectivity, the real argument for building HS2 is providing the capacity to meet increasing passenger demand. HS2 would be capable of carrying 14 trains per hour in each direction, rising to 18 trains when the network is complete – each capable of carrying up to 1,100 passengers. It will link eight of our 10 biggest cities, deliver around £2 of economic benefits for every £1 spent, and create at least 100,000 jobs. As long-distance services transfer onto HS2, capacity will be created on the existing network.

All these investments will give Britain a world class railway, with the capacity we need to prosper. But the railway will need to change in other ways.

Smart ticketing technologies will transform the way that passengers use services. We recently announced a trial of flexible ticketing, which, for example, would offer discounted fares for those travelling outside the peak, and flexible season tickets for people who don’t work five days a week. Ultimately, passengers will have a single smartcard to travel on different routes and different modes of transport, allowing for a system to be designed to suit travellers individually.

We are also committed to simplifying the current, complex system of fares where possible, and making sure that the information provided is clearer and more customer-friendly. And as our economy recovers, we will make fares more affordable. We have already made a start by reducing average fare rises.

Looking at the structure of the industry in Britain, I think we will see closer collaborations between train and track operators. Partnerships like the one formed by South West Trains and Network Rail will help align objectives to improve the railway for passengers, and ensure that different parts of the industry do what they do best – whether it is selling tickets, running signals, or fixing track. However, it is not impossible to imagine alliances which include building or infrastructure companies, as well as train companies.

The next 20 years promise to be exciting ones for Britain’s railway. By 2033, HS2 will be built and running. Crossrail will be more than a decade old and a familiar part of London life. Our current mainlines will be largely electric. Services will be faster, more frequent, more accessible and easier to use than ever before.

Therefore the increase in passenger journeys that we have seen since privatisation is likely to continue. As our economy grows, rail demand will grow. And this time, we will be ready to meet it.

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