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Transport Committee slams “too modest” government’s railway plans

July 22, 2008

The House of Common’s Transport Select Committee, a group of MPs including ex-leader of Manchester City Council Graham Stringer, has issued a critical review of the government’s “Delivering a Sustainable Railway”  strategy for the railways

Whilst welcoming the government’s willingness to plan for the long-term future (“we congratulate Ministers on the development of the first structured plan to develop our railways in many decades”) the committee concluded the government’s vision was far too modest when factors such as rising passenger numbers, oil prices, and environment concerns are taken into account.

The committee regrets that the government refused to commit to building high-speed railways to offer a better alternative to domestic flights and warns that “Hesitation now will mean years of avoidable misery and overcrowding on the network.”

On electrification the committee approves of the government’s very recent change of heart after previously dismissing it “too lightly”. The committee said “We are pleased the Government appears finally to have seen sense on electrification”.

The committee expressed serious concerns about the performance and governance of Network Rail, saying the director’s recent bonuses “added insult to injury for the long-suffering passengers who have had to struggle with the consequences of the company’s failings”. They also find the structure of Network Rail inadequate and recommends the government finds an alternate structure that provides greater accountability.

On increasing network capacity the committee says the government is again “over-cautious” and call for “significant expansion of the network sooner rather than later”.

The 1,300 new carriages that the government have pledged to order are welcomed but the committee also warns “it is clear that, due to the growth in rail patronage, the new stock is unlikely to relieve overcrowding significantly”.

In conclusion the review says that “The White Paper is very light on vision and strategic thinking, and rather represents a missed opportunity … The Government should now seek to develop a genuine 30-year strategy.”

The full review can be downloaded from the government web site here.

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