Government needs to urgently provide detail on rail upgrades and accelerate IRP delivery, say rail industry
In its submission to Parliament’s Transport Select Committee inquiry into the Integrated Rail Plan (IRP), the Railway Industry Association (RIA):
- Welcomed the investment the IRP sets out, but urged the Government to deliver the plan as soon as possible if it wants to ‘build back better’ quickly, post-Coronavirus.
- Questioned whether the IRP will actually be progressed, given the last plan on Northern Powerhouse Rail and the full HS2 scheme had not been delivered.
- Highlighted that there has still been no update on the Government’s Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline, the process by which many IRP projects will be signed off. It has now been more than 800 days after the last publication of the RNEP, despite promises to update annually.
- Pressed the Government to be more strategic about future UK railway network planning, rather than a ‘chop and change’ approach, which results in uncertainty for rail businesses and makes it difficult for them to plan and invest in skills longer-term.
- Suggested the IRP be accompanied by a commitment from the Government to reconsider and deliver Northern Powerhouse Rail and the full HS2 scheme, developing the Eastern Leg from Birmingham to Leeds at the same time as pushing on with the Western Leg to Manchester.
Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA), said: “Clearly the IRP is a significant and welcome investment in the North and Midlands’ railways, and the industry stands ready to deliver it. However, given the Government has rowed back on its commitment to HS2’s Eastern Leg and Northern Powerhouse Rail, how confident can the railway industry and individual rail businesses be that this new plan will be delivered in full?
“So RIA and our members now seek categorical assurances from the Government about when and how these projects will be built, so that rail businesses can invest in the necessary skills and medium to long term capabilities required to deliver them.
“We also call on the Government to announce its Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline urgently, given it has not been updated for over 800 days – this, despite a commitment to do so annually. Its immediate publication is more important than ever, given many IRP projects will be moving in to the RNEP.
“It is clear that if the Government wants to get the best bang for its buck from the rail supply sector, and deliver project upgrades for passengers and freight on time, it needs to provide visibility and certainty of upcoming work now. By doing this the railway industry will be able to play an even bigger part in supporting the Government to deliver sustainable jobs and economic growth in every region of the country.”
Justin Moss, Chair of RIA North, added: “Whilst the proposals in the Integrated Rail Plan will benefit passenger and freight services across the North of England, as well as support thousands of jobs both in our region and wider economy, we need to go further and faster to achieve the outputs. A commitment is therefore required from the Government that this plan will be delivered as a minimum.
“RIA North and our members want to see the detail on delivering this plan, so the supply chain can invest in the skills and capability we will need for the decades to come. We will continue working with the Government, Transport for the North and HS2 Ltd to support a clean, reliable railway for passengers in the North and across the UK.”
RIA highlighted seven specific recommendations:
- The Government should seek in future to take a more strategic approach to rail investment, providing the sector with long-term confidence to plan and invest;
- The Government should publish the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP) urgently, providing confirmation of the key IRP upgrades it intends to deliver and clear timeframes;
- The delivery of key schemes in the Integrated Rail Plan should begin as soon as possible, working with the rail supply sector to ensure work is cost-effective;
- The Government should continue examining the case for building the full HS2 Eastern Leg to Leeds and Northern Powerhouse Rail in full;
- RIA welcomes progress on electrification, but a sustainable, rolling programme of work is required, alongside fleet orders of battery and hydrogen trains;
- RIA calls for the full delivery of Network Rail’s Long Term Deployment Plan for digital signalling, building on the upgrades to the East Coast Main Line; and
- Delivery of the Midlands Rail Hub needs to be accelerated, working with regional and industry partners to improve connectivity across the Midlands.