Network Rail is planning to spend £3.1bn upgrading the TransPennine route from 2019 to 2024, aside from any Government commitment to a larger upgrade under the Northern Powerhouse Rail banner.
Rob McIntosh, managing director for Network Rail's London, North Eastern and East Midlands route, told members of the All Party Parliamentary Rail Group that he was 'busy working' out what the Government’s recent Statement of Funds Available (SoFA) for Control Period 6 (CP6) means but praised ministers for investing in the network despite the challenges it faces.
His presentation indicated that spending on the Transpennine Route Upgrade, which includes cutting journey times between Manchester and York and 'electrification options', is forecast to be £3.1bn out of a total CP6 enhancements budget for the route of £4.5bn.
He told the meeting that Network Rail was ‘working very closely with the Department [for Transport] on how they might approach the TransPennine conundrum’ – an apparent reference to concerns that geography makes it difficult to cut journey times significantly through infrastructure improvements.
A Network Rail spokesperson stressed that the figure was for the infrastructure operator’s financial planning purposes and not a funded value. He pointed out that enhancements in CP6 will be funded differently from CP5 (2014-19) and funding granted on a project-to-project basis rather than as part of an overall funding settlement.
Mr McIntosh also raised concerns over the condition of the overhead electricity lines on the East Coast Mainline, despite an CP6 enhancement programme on the route projected to cost £800m.
He said: ‘I’m worried that the East Coast programme has been founded on geographically identified investments…but the asset that connects those geographic bottlenecks is tired and in need of more renewals investment than we are currently allocated in the settlement.
‘Those who are familiar with the East Coast Mainline will know about the fragility of the overhead line. It’s just at the end of its life but at the moment I’ve got no funding to substantially rejuvenate that line so I’m going to have to squeeze another five years out of it when we’ve got some nice new trains that have got two pantographs coming, so it’s going to have to work doubly hard.'
However, Mr McIntosh said he was generally happy with the level of renewals funding indicated by the SoFA for CP6, which he said was £3.1bn, although his presentation indicated that it would be £2.5bn.
He said: ‘I don’t want any more money than that to deliver as that is a very, very sizeable sum and just to deliver that number efficiently is enough of an ask at the moment, never mind whether we need more funding. Enhancements are slightly different: they need a bit more investment. The renewals I’m very pleased with what’s [it’s] looking like in the settlement.'
He added: ‘Now we need to demonstrate that we can spend that money efficiently and get on with putting right the downturn [in renewals funding that occurred in CP5] because that has had a real effect on the longevity of our asset.’