The outgoing head of Network Rail has said that train operators will seek to run 24-hour trains in ‘the not-too-distant-future’, to meet demand from the public.
In an interview with The Times, Mark Carne, chief executive of the government-owned rail infrastructure company, said the railway had to ‘evolve to be relevant and provide the sort of service that people need’.
Mr Carne is to retire from Network Rail later this year
He said Network Rail was preparing for 24-hour services by speeding up engineering work and anticipating faults before they become a problem. Trains currently run through the night to Gatwick and Manchester airports.
Mr Carne said: ‘Over time what do people want from a railway? They want something that is more relevant to their lifestyle and today people’s lifestyles are 24-hour. If you look at the success of the Night Tube in London, it is an example of how if you provide a different service, people use it.
‘If you have a 24-hour Tube, it is not going to be long before people want 24-hour availability of rail systems. So we have to be one step ahead of the game.’
He added: ‘I am anticipating that my customers — the train operating companies — will come to me in the not-too-distant future and tell me they want to run 24-hour trains.
‘And I have got to be prepared for that and that’s why we’re thinking today about what that would look like. It comes back to the theme of looking one step ahead so that you’re not caught out.’
Network Rail announced in February that Mr Carne will retire from the company later this year.
A man for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents both Network Rail and train operators, said: 'In their long term plan rail companies have committed to doing more for communities, customers and the economy. Train companies will consider timetable changes where there is demand, where it will boost night time economies and improve transport interchanges.
'A balance must be struck, though, between ensuring reliable infrastructure, which will require regular maintenance - usually done at night - and meeting the needs of customers outside traditional hours.'
Mr Carne also told the Times that more than two thirds of the rail network may be fitted with digital signalling within 15 years.