Labour pledges end to ‘boom and bust’ funding cycle for Network Rail
A Labour Government would end the ‘boom and bust’ cycle of rail industry funding by extending the duration of control periods, Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald has announced.
The five-year control periods currently used by the Department for Transport to allocate funding to Network Rail would instead last for seven years, with planning for the next period taking place up to two years before the end of the existing one.
Speaking at the UKRRIN (UK Rail and Research Innovation Network) annual conference in London on November 13, McDonald said the move would help tackle an uneven cycle of overspending on renewals by NR at the beginning of control periods, followed by underspending towards the end as funds become depleted.
Labour’s policy announcement follows consistent warnings from the Railway Industry Association that fluctuating workload profiles in CP5 (which runs until March 2019) has damaged confidence in the supply chain to sustain levels of investment and recruitment, and increased costs by up to 30%.
“The investment pipeline is a high priority, which is why Labour would extend control periods to seven years,” said McDonald.
“These will be rolling periods which are reset two to three years before they end, in order to give more certainty.”
He added that having a strong supply chain was integral to Labour’s renationalisation plans, which would be limited to bringing only passenger operations into public ownership. Having a joined-up railway was the prime objective in order to avoid failures such as the timetable meltdown that severely affected Northern and Thameslink networks in May.
Strategic planning would be overseen on a national level by a new ‘guiding mind’ body, with greater powers for regional and local decision-making handed to devolved transport authorities.
McDonald added: “This is one of the many examples of how the fragmented railway is unable to make the necessary trade-offs, and a small snapshot of the approach to railway planning which, in my opinion, has gone badly wrong.
“Rail needs less political interference, with experts given the latitude to achieve the strategic goals set out by government, which is why under our plan we will set up an arm’s length body with a guiding mind and many of the functions which have been lost in a privatised railway.”
McDonald also repeated Labour’s commitment to funding a largescale electrification programme, including a reversal of the Government’s controversial decision in July 2017 to scrap schemes in South Wales, Cumbria and the East Midlands.
He said that costs would need to be addressed, but that electrification remained the most cost-effective way to decarbonise the railways over the longer term.
“Lower-carbon measures like using auto stop-start technology and station shore supply to power trains are an expensive distraction. I say: why don’t we just electrify the railway? I hope many of you here today can come up with proposals for how we can reduce the cost, which is now an imperative.”