UK government unveils railway investment plans

The government has announced a raft of railway investment plans, including thousands of new carriages, a fleet of new trains and line electrification.

Transport secretary Philip Hammond confirmed that £6bn of work on the London commuter Thameslink line would go ahead but with a two-year delay, and he committed to £900m of rail electrification projects in the south-east and north-west of England.

The Department for Transport (DfT) will buy 2,100 new carriages by 2019 to ease overcrowding and replace the 30-year-old Intercity 125 trains on the Great Western and East Coast main lines.

But the decision on what trains will run instead of the 125s has been delayed until January, as has confirmation of plans to electrify the London-Swansea line.

‘At a time of severe pressure on public spending, it would be tempting to cut back on investment in our railways,’ said Hammond. ‘But we cannot afford not to invest in Britain’s future.’

Under the proposals, 1,800 of the new carriages will be given to new Crossrail and Thameslink services, which will free up hundreds of existing electric carriages for the newly electrified lines by franchised train operators.

The government plans to allocate 650 carriages to franchise operators by 2014 and there will be at least 1,850 net additional carriages on the network by 2019.

Two options are under consideration for the Intercity 125 replacement. The first bid from Agility Trains (Hitachi and John Laing) proposes a mix of electric and ‘hybrid’ trains with both electric and diesel engines.

A second, new proposal envisages a fleet of all-electric trains that could be coupled to new diesel locomotives where the overhead electric power lines end.

Lines will be electrified between London and Didcot, Newbury and Oxford, as well as between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool.

The new upgrades will be paid for by a combination of government money and a 6.2 per cent average fare increase from January.

The announcements follow £14bn of funding for rail maintenance and infrastructure over the next four years allocated in last month’s Comprehensive Spending Review, as well as £750m for high-speed rail.

The government has also announced the UK’s first national infrastructure plan, setting out its intentions to generate around £200bn worth of public- and private-sector investment over the next five years.