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DfT criticised for slow running on rail upgrades

The Rail Industry Association (RIA) has criticised the Department for Transport’s lack of progress over the past year in implementing rail infrastructure recommendations made by the Transport Select Committee.

The select committee made a series of recommendations in June 2018, following its inquiry into rail infrastructure investment, launched in the previous November. The government issued a response in September 2018 setting out its action plans.

In its September 2019 progress review, the RIA trade body offered a point-by-point update on each of the committee’s findings. It said that, despite the DfT making progress in support of cleaner rail technology and decarbonisation, there has not been enough improvement relating to pipelines for enhancement work, network electrification and remedying the ‘boom-and-bust’ cycle of rail funding.

The committee’s recommendations included a call for a rolling programme of electrification and increased visibility of upcoming enhancements, but the RIA report concluded that little has been done to address either point, noting that there have been no new rail upgrade projects announced since 2017.

The group added that, despite the committee’s recommendations, there are no construction-ready schemes in the rail network pipeline for Control Period 6 (CP6, covering 2019-2024) and no visible pipeline of enhancement projects for the rail supply industry to prepare for.

The RIA also complained that, although some progress had been made to remedy the ‘boom-and-bust’ nature of rail funding, such as roundtables held with Network Rail, the Office of Rail and Road and government, not enough action was taken in time for the start of CP6 in April 2019.

Transport Select Committee chair Lilian Greenwood said she was particularly concerned by the failure to announce new rail enhancement plans, which leaves the industry in a “state of uncertainty about future investments in the rail network”.

Ms Greenwood said she is also disappointed that the government has not engaged more with industry to develop cost-effective electrification.

“I sincerely hope that the new secretary of state for transport and his new rail minister [will be] more willing to engage with the constructive recommendations from my committee.”

RIA chief executive Darren Caplan said: “A year on, and it is disappointing that in key areas the government has still not acted on firm commitments it gave to the Transport Select Committee.”

“Whilst we of course welcome the DfT’s support on encouraging decarbonisation and working with RIA and others on reducing ‘boom-and-bust’ in rail spending, one does have to wonder why is it not delivered elsewhere?”

A DfT spokesperson said: “Through investing a record £48bn to modernise our railways, and taking advantage of technology including bi-mode, hydrogen and battery-powered trains, we are committed to creating a cleaner, greener network, taking decisions on the basis of what will deliver better journeys for passengers and minimise disruption.”

“We will publish the rail network enhancement pipeline in due course, setting out our programmes of investment across the rail network, and continue to work with the RIA to ensure future infrastructure projects deliver value for money.”

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