MT is no stranger to the daily rail commute and the frustrations and horrors therein. But it seems that there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel for harried passengers. Those delays, cancellations, packed trains and mysterious signaling problems will soon be a thing of the past.
Over the next five years, £600m will be spent on protecting tracks and bridges against floods and heat waves and 1,000 miles of new electrified lines will be added to the network. This will result in faster, more reliable trains, says Network Rail.
New trains will replace clapped out old rolling stock to help cart commuters around. Around 170,000 new peak-time seats will be added in total. How MT will miss that unnatural morning squeeze, guessing every component of one’s neighbour’s breakfast as his breath blasts your face, and attempting to adjust position so that none of the jutting elbows bruise vital organs.
Some £5bn is also to be spent on that depressing line from London to Swansea, which – post electrification and signaling gadgetry revamp – should actually do what it promises and take passengers from London to Swansea. Congested areas around Reading and Manchester will also be sorted out.
Huzzah, MT hears you cry. But before you succumb to ecstasy, know this: it is fares, in the main, that are funding this £37.5bn investment. Network Rail has promised to try and make some internal savings too, but the lion’s share of the dosh will be creamed off commuters as fares continue to rise above inflation each year to 2019. That will take the number of years that fares have risen above the cost of living to 15 in total. Somewhere, a Fat Controller is having a belly laugh.
Network Rail chief executive David Higgins has attempted to soothe commuters’ ire by explaining: ‘We have an amazing railway which is performing out of its socks, but it is still an old, Victorian railway which costs money to maintain because it is old and at a very, very high level of capacity.
‘But we have made huge progress,’ he continues. ‘The costs of maintaining and operating the railway in the 10-year period to 2014 have come down by 50%. We have to invest to save. We have to spend now to increase capacity, create a more resilient railway.’ Although, looking at projected growth, this may just about keep things at the current levels of crowdedness...
That’s all very well Higgins, but to quote Sun business editor Steve Hawkes on Twitter, ‘£37bn?! Are they launching services to the moon?!’