Railtrack’s plans to spend more than £10bn on Britain’s rail infrastructure over the next 10 years are to be welcomed. Long overdue improvements, including radio-based signalling incorporating automatic protection against trains passing red signals, radio communication between drivers and signal boxes, and better passenger information, should now go ahead.
Freight operator English, Welsh and Scottish Railways says that Railtrack is showing more understanding of its needs, an important step if EW&S’s ambitious plans to move from its traditional reliance on bulk freight and into the market for transporting manufactured goods, with potential to reduce lorry movements on the roads, are to be achieved.
The funding announced last week is undoubtedly more than would have been available under the regime that existed before British Rail was privatised, and some will say that the argument about whether equivalent private funding could have been levered in to a publicly owned railway are academic.
But the privatisation process ushered in years of uncertainty for the railway and its suppliers, cost millions in fees for consultants and lawyers drawing up agreements between the dozens of new companies, and culminated in a severely underpriced sell off. The manufacturers which are now enjoying the benefits of new investment had to endure a period when orders all but dried up.
It is by no means such a compelling success story to justify being repeated with the London Underground.