Senior MPs have raised concerns over Network Rail's ability to deliver on its record £38bn investment programme following the Christmas disruption and called for more cash to be allocated outside London.
Members of the Transport Select Committee have warned that Network Rail now needed to regain the confidence of passengers, emphasising that engineering works had caused ‘chaos’ at stations over December while continuing disruption at London Bridge was ‘unacceptable’.
Overrunning work on points, crossings and associated track and wiring saw King’s Cross - one of the capital’s busiest stations – closed for 24 hours on 27 December. Paddington in West London was also shut for hours due to further disruption.
Committee chair, Louise Ellman, said such disruption was ‘a worrying sign for the capacity of Network Rail to manage multiple, complex engineering projects simultaneously’ and urged the organisation to demonstrate it could deliver improvements such as electrification in the North West and the Great Western Main Line ‘on time, and while still delivering safe an efficient services for all passengers’.
Ms Ellman welcomed new commitments to deliver record spending on the ‘classic’ rail network yet said cash needed to be redistributed outside of the South East.
‘Too long this spending has been focused on London. We call for revised — and published — criteria to ensure fairer funding allocations that reflect wider economic and social objectives,’ she said.
The Department for Transport (DfT) was also urged to take responsibility for rolling stock, with calls from the Transport Committee for a clear commitment to the removal of ‘outdated and unpopular’ Pacer trains from the rail network ‘by 2020 at the latest’.
‘Ministers must ensure there is sufficient rolling stock - of a decent quality - to run timetabled rail services and maximise the benefits of new infrastructure. Rising numbers of rail passengers have not being matched by investment in new rolling stock, resulting in overcrowding, and passengers unable to board some busy trains,’ Ms Ellman said.
Responding to the calls, Labour’s shadow rail minister, Lilian Greenwood, said: ‘It’s clear that ministerial incompetence has thrown the Government’s plans for upgrading the railways into serious doubt. They were asleep on the job during the Christmas meltdown, and across the country projects are delayed, overspent and at risk of being cut back.
‘Hard pressed commuters on overcrowded carriages have been hit with fare rises of up to 33% since 2010 and no end is in sight for the antiquated Pacer trains that David Cameron promised to replace,’ she added.
A DfT spokesperson said: ‘We are investing record amounts in building a world-class railway as part of our long term economic plan and we have ambitious plans to improve rail services in the north. This includes improved east-west journey times through HS3, the replacement of Pacer trains and a £1bn investment programme in the region’s railways.
‘Together they will improve services for passengers and help close the economic gap between north and south. We have made it clear to Network Rail that we expect the company to deliver the government’s investment programme on-time and on-budget.’
The £38bn investment in the UK's rail network covers 2014-2019.