CANCELLED ELECTRIFICATION schemes should be placed in the Government’s new Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline and be re-categorised as ‘pending’, the House of Commons Transport Committee has recommended in its report on rail infrastructure investment.
Referencing the Midland main line, Great Western and Lakes line schemes that were cancelled in July 2017 by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, the committee suggests the schemes should be subject to further development and design work. It calls for electrification to be delivered ‘through a long-term rolling programme, in which the Department, Network Rail and the wider industry learn the lessons of earlier schemes and strive to reduce the costs’. It also calls for the Department for Transport and Network Rail to engage with the Railway Industry Association’s Electrification Cost Challenge initiative and to ‘demonstrate a greater willingness to engage with third-party proposals for alternatively-funded schemes’.
The committee expresses disappointment at the lack of engagement from Mr Grayling surrounding the cancellation of the schemes and says DfT’s approach of promoting bi-mode operation with a view to conversion to alternative power sources in the future ‘remains untested and is therefore uncertain’. It recommends DfT should use innovation funding to support the testing of emerging train traction technologies on the UK network.
Discussing DfT’s approach to rail infrastructure enhancements, the committee says it supports the intention behind the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline and notes the case for dealing with enhancements outside the five-year Control Period process is strong. Concern is expressed about DfT’s capability to take on a strengthened role in the enhancements process along with surprise at the Office of Rail and Road’s willingness to step away from this role. The committee also notes the reliance on market-led proposals bringing in third party investment and raises concern about a lack of specificity and of a ‘plan B’ should such proposals not materialise as hoped. It adds a call for full transparency of enhancement projects at each stage of the pipeline, as well as for provision of further guidance for market-led proposals.
Another issue addressed by the committee is the perceived imbalance in regional spending. While noting the difficulties in measuring transport infrastructure spending on a regional basis, the committee suggests decision-making processes and systems of scheme appraisal currently work against regions in need of regeneration, therefore also working against Government’s intention to rebalance the economy. It calls for appraisal methods to weight heavily ‘the regeneration impacts of investment in transport in regions with spare economic capacity’.
While welcoming Government’s recognition of this issue and suggesting DfT’s ‘rebalancing toolkit’ is a step in the right direction, the committee raises concern that the toolkit’s status as supplementary guidance will limit its effectiveness. It challenges the Department to continue reviewing the effectiveness of the toolkit in achieving the Government’s rebalancing aims and calls for a published analysis every two years of the difference the toolkit has made to Government’s regional transport investment decisions.
The committee has also commented on NR’s plans for a greater focus on maintenance and renewals in Control Period 6 and the historic stop/go nature of renewals spending. It supports RIA’s call for DfT to evaluate the effects of the current system on the renewals spending profile and to subsequently identify and implement a mechanism by which investment can be smoothed out.