By Claire Weswt
The Government will invest in more than 2,100 new rail carriages for Britain's railways by 2019, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond announced today as he unveiled plans to modernise the rail network, tackle overcrowding, improve reliability and speed up journeys.
Mr Hammond confirmed that London's Thameslink project will go ahead in its entirety at a total capital cost of around £6bn, as will £900m of rail electrification projects on lines between London and Didcot, Newbury and Oxford as well as between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool. In addition to the 2,100 new carriages, Britain is also to get a new fleet of intercity trains, replacing the ageing 30 year old 'Intercity 125s' on the Great Western and East Coast main lines, the Transport Secretary announced.
Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said:
"At a time of severe pressure on public spending, it would be tempting to cut back on investment in our railways. But we cannot afford not to invest in Britain’s future.
"We have already committed to the Crossrail project and to £14bn to support capital maintenance and investment in our railways over the next four years. Today I can confirm that the Thameslink project will go ahead in its entirety and I can announce 650 further carriages to reduce overcrowding. In total this amounts to 2,100 new carriages which will help make our railways fit for the 21st century."
In total the Government will deliver more than 2,100 new rail carriages onto the network by May 2019. Of these, 1,800 will be for new Crossrail and Thameslink services. This will in turn free up hundreds of existing electric carriages to be deployed onto the newly electrified lines by franchised train operators. In total, there will be at least 1,850 net additional carriages on the network by 2019. The Government will now enter into commercial negotiations with the franchised operators about the allocation of the unallocated element of 650 further carriages for delivery before 2014. Subject to those negotiations, the Government expects additional carriages to be added on services into Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol, London Paddington and London Waterloo.
The Thameslink project will virtually double the number of north-south trains running through central London during the busiest times and provides new links between towns and cities north and south of the capital without the need to change trains in London. The programme includes the rebuilding of three major London stations, including London Bridge. The Thameslink Programme will be reprofiled, enabling Network Rail to deliver the works in a more efficient manner, improving the scheme's value for money and reducing potential risks. Passengers will, however, benefit from incremental improvements as work on the project continues to advance.
Electrification of the railway lines between London and Reading, Didcot, Newbury and Oxford, as well as between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool will allow the current diesel trains to be replaced with electric vehicles. Electric trains are cleaner, quieter and more reliable than diesels as well as providing more seats. They are also cheaper to buy, operate and maintain. The Government supports further electrification of the rail network and will continue to consider the case for further electrification schemes, including on the Midland Main Line.
Most of Britain's ageing Intercity 125 'high speed trains' are to be retired, Mr Hammond also announced. Plans to introduce a new generation of trains through the 'Intercity Express Programme' (IEP) have been under review by the Government since February. The Government has now ruled out simply refurbishing the existing trains and has also ruled out requiring passengers to interchange from electric to diesel trains at stations where electric lines end. Two alternative options remain under consideration: a revised and lower cost IEP bid from Agility Trains (Hitachi and John Laing), which envisages a mixture of electric trains and 'hybrid' trains with both electric and diesel engines; and a new proposal for a fleet of new all-electric trains which could be coupled to new diesel locomotives where the overhead electric power lines end. The Government will be in a position to make an announcement on further electrification of the Great Western Main Line once this review is complete.