Network Rail hit by £1bn funding cut

The UK budget for railway infrastructure has been cut by £ 1 billion as a result of the Chancellor’s Spending Review.

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said Network Rail’s funding for improvements over the 2019-2024 period is £ 9.4 billion.

This is nearly 10% lower than the £ 10.4 billion amount previously calculated by the railway regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) as the budget for the five-year period.

Rishi Sunak made no mention of the cut in last week’s Spending Review, telling the Commons that the government would deliver on its “record investment plans in infrastructure.”

A £ 1 billion shortfall in Network Rail funding is likely to have a major impact on future projects.

The Railway Industry Association, a trade association representing railway companies, described the decision as “very disappointing”.

Chief executive Darren Caplan said, “Track improvements are essential to ensure our rail network is future-ready, improving reliability, connectivity, customer experience and reducing CO2 emissions.

“Now taking our foot off the pedal regarding rail investment will not help if passengers return after the coronavirus pandemic.”

He also urged the government to reveal which improvement programs will be taking place in the coming years “to help railway companies plan and invest in what is such a critical time for the UK economy”.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef’s union of train drivers, said: “This revelation questions not only some long-planned and much-needed improvements to our transportation infrastructure, but also the whole issue of rebuilding this country after the pandemic. .

“It’s time for the government to clean up and tell us what they want to do.”

Network Rail’s budget for operation, maintenance and renewal is unchanged.

During the Spending Review, a further £ 2.1 billion in taxpayers ‘money was allocated to cover private train companies’ losses during the coronavirus pandemic.

The government took over rail franchise agreements from train operators in March, following the collapse in travel demand due to the virus crisis.

This means that the taxpayer must cover for lost tariff revenue and pay compensation of up to 1.5% of pre-pandemic operating costs to keep the services running.

An estimated £ 8 billion will be spent in the current fiscal year, with a further £ 2.1 billion allocated for 2021/22.

Meanwhile, the ORR has raised concerns about Network Rail’s plan to deliver timetables for 2021 in a “significantly shorter timeframe” than usual.

It has called on the organization to prove that it has fully considered “the risks” of this approach.

The chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018 led to major disruptions.

John Larkinson, CEO of ORR, said, “In this extremely difficult year, Network Rail has been impressive in delivering four very short term emergency schedules and continuing to deliver efficiency in a very challenging environment.

“But Network Rail needs to fully justify its approach to scheduling next year and beyond. It is important for the rail industry to learn lessons from the 2018 timetable changes and to do everything in its power to maintain passenger confidence in the published timetable. “