In the midst of PR18, the five-year periodic review of Network Rail's funding and outputs, the Government's Transport Committee has decided to launch an inquiry into whether the current system of planning and delivering investment in rail infrastructure is adequate.

The Committee is concerned that several large schemes, such as the Great Western route electrification, have already been scaled back and that cost overruns from CP5 (the current five-year "control period" ending in 2019) mean that £3.4 billion of renewals are likely to be postponed into CP6 (which runs from April 2019 to March 2024).  There is little private investment in rail infrastructure, it being concentrated on rolling stock. 

Most rail infrastructure funding in Britain is channelled through Network Rail.  In October, the Government announced that £47.9 billion has been set aside for Network Rail for CP6. £34.7 billion will come from Government grant, the rest will have to be raised by Network Rail through track access charges and commercial income.

Against the background of PR18 (and see our series of articles for more detail on the review process), the Committee wishes to understand whether the current system of planning and delivering investment in rail infrastructure is adequate.

The Committee particularly wants views on:

  • The impact of postponing renewals from the current control period into the next and the implications of the Secretary of State’s decision to remove enhancements from the control period process;
  • The adequacy of the control period process in enabling the delivery of long term rail infrastructure objectives;
  • Whether Network Rail’s long term planning process is effective in providing the industry with strategic direction beyond the five year control period;
  • The reasons for the apparent regional disparity in rail infrastructure funding, and the mechanisms by which regions may have a greater input into planning and delivering rail infrastructure, including through route devolution within Network Rail and entitles such as Transport for the North and Midlands Connect;
  • The possible implications of the Government’s policy of increasing the share of private sector financing in rail infrastructure; and
  • Whether steps the Government and Network Rail have taken to increase private sector investment for rail infrastructure are adequate and how continuing barriers to private sector investment might be addressed.

Comment

The timing of this inquiry is interesting given that it comes in the middle of the current periodic review process.  The rail infrastructure came under scrutiny only two years ago with the Bowe and Hendy reviews looking at what had gone wrong with rail enhancements and re-planning them, and the Shaw Report recommending how Network Rail should be structured and financed going forward.  This seems like another inquiry going over the same ground.

That said, it is encouraging that the Government wants to listen to industry's views so now is a chance to make them known.  You can send in your written submissions through the Rail infrastructure inquiry page and the deadline is Monday 18 December 2017.