Network Rail is developing a new incentive scheme to reward private contractors for investing cash to create extra capacity on the network.
The plans, which are in their infancy, come as the national rail infrastructure operator is facing a multi-billion pound funding shortfall and would help leverage investment from contractors themselves for the upgrades.
Network Rail could not confirm at this stage whether the financial return for the investment would come from the public sector body itself or from private operators benefiting from running the extra trains.
Mark Carne, Network Rail chief executive, has suggested he could work with the rolling-stock leasing companies that own UK trains, while for signalling projects contractors would receive a return depending on how many new train slots their investment created.
Transport Network understands that Mr Carne envisages private signalling contractors competing to bid for using their latest digital signalling control systems to re-signal an intensively used piece of railway, using their own capital.
They would then realise a return from the extra train paths their system creates, and the company with the best offer would earn the right to take forward their proposal in partnership with Network Rail.
However, at this stage, there has been no decision on what criteria would be used to establish which deal is of best value.
Transport Network was told discussions are ongoing between Government, operators and the supply chain and all options are on the table.
Mr Carne told the Financial Times he had spoken to contractors who were willing to spend money on installing new signalling equipment to boost network capacity.
‘They say: “We’re willing to invest but we have to make a return". We’re exploring how to make that work,’ Mr Carne said.
He added: ‘I don’t think Network Rail should be specifying how to create this capacity,' Mr Carne said. 'I think we should be saying: How do you think we should be creating this capacity? We should be saying: How does the market think we should be creating this capacity?’