'Golden age of rail' under threat, top official warns

 

A potential 'golden age of rail' led by HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse is under threat after Brexit, a senior Government official has warned.

Speaking under Chatham House rules at a recent briefing for transport bosses, the official, who has responsibility for rail at a high level, revealed that modelling was being carried out to see what effect a shrinking economy after the Brexit vote would have on demand and revenue in rail.

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They added that a loss of investor confidence following the Brexit vote would impact the rail sector, and suggested ministers needed to move to support investment from key players.

The continued appetite of train makers like Hitachi and Siemens should not be taken for granted they warned, highlighting that investment could also suffer if a new chancellor does not have the same faith as George Osborne in the ability of rail to support the economy.

The official also expressed disapproval over the Southern Rail dispute, stating that arguments around driver only operation were spurious and disappointing as they prevented a modern, efficient and better service to customers.

With industrial action affecting rail services such as Southern, the official acknowledged that there was a serious performance issue.

The official also appeared to censure ministers and the sector over part-time season tickets, which rail companies have been slow to implement.

They said that leadership from Government was necessary and that a requirement must be enshrined in franchises. The Conservative Manifesto commitment on this has not yet been implemented, they added.

The official added that it was now necessary to ‘think really hard’ how to ensure interoperability to get the best results for HS2 and the existing network.

They did say however that investment in HS2, Crossrail, intercity routes and services linked to the Northern Powerhouse represented a ‘golden age for rail’.

 

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