Good news, bad news

Good news: a plan for the future of the UK railways has been published by the Strategic Rail Authority, setting out a series of measures to improve Britain’s rail network. Bad news: Friends of the Earth have already slagged it off.

A plan for the future of the UK railways has been published by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA), setting out a series of measures to improve Britain’s rail network. The plan outlines how improvements for passengers and freight customers will be delivered in the short and medium term, as well as setting out long term ideas for the next decade.

Increased public funding for the railway has been increased by £4.5 billion, and the SRA itself will be restructured to deliver the Plan.

According to the plan, improvements to the rail network will be delivered within four years. In particular safety improvements will be put into place, including the completion of the Train Protection and Warning System and trial schemes for the new European Rail Traffic Management System.

Track and signalling improvements will take place at 100 locations throughout the country to improve capacity or reliability. Old slam – door Mark I coaches will be replaced with new trains.

Station facilities will be improved with new security, information systems and toilets at 1,000 small and medium sized stations throughout the country. A new revenue support scheme will be put into place for rail freight to encourage competition and get more freight off the road and onto the rail.Lastly, the first phase of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will be completed by 2003; this will be the first new main line in Britain for almost 100 years, which will release extra capacity on the lines in Kent.

Not everyone is convinced. According to the Friends of the Earth (FOE), the new plan could fail without much greater financial support from the Government.

Rail Campaigner Richard Dyer said: ‘The SRA is honest about the industry’s problems and the scale of the challenge ahead. Large-scale investment is clearly needed in London and the South East, but angry commuters in Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and the rest of the country will be wondering what’s in it for them,’ he said.

‘There are also real doubts about whether or not the huge private sector investment needed will ever materialise. If we want a rail system to match the best of Europe across the country then Gordon Brown will have to put his hand a bit deeper into his pocket. He could start by cancelling damaging road schemes such as the A303 widening in Wiltshire and Devon – which runs virtually parallel to the Salisbury to Exeter rail line, which is still single track,’ he added.

The concentration on London and the South East arises from the SRA’s focus on delivering the Government’s targets for rail, identified in ‘Transport 2010’: passenger and freight growth of 50% and 80% respectively, and a reduction in London area over-crowding.

Friends of the Earth believes that these targets are too narrowly focussed, and that there should be separate passenger growth targets for each region.