Engineers in orange suits with crane laying track

Freight and passengers at the heart of new five-year plan for UK railway

Engineers track layingImage Network Rail media centre

Network Rail has published its 44 billion pound (almost 52 billion euro) five-year plan for the period 2024-2029. The infrastructure agency plans for increased investment in tackling climate change, improving train performance from current levels and investment in freight user requirements. It has however said that economic conditions may mean it is able to do little more than manage the railway reactively, responding to incidents such as climate related disruption, rather than proactive upgrades.

Britain’s infrastructure agency has direct responsibility for the railway in England and Wales. Separate arrangements are in place in Northern Ireland, and in Scotland, where the agency works as part of a partnership with the devolved government in Edinburgh. The announced figures are for the remainder of the United Kingdom. They come on the back of the UK government’s specifications from the Department for Transport. In December, the DfT published two key documents – the High Level Output Statement, and the Statement of Funds Available – just over 44 billion pounds – about four percent more than the previous control period.

Substantial investment

“Over the last two years, and more intensively over the past three months, Network Rail has been working on plans to deliver the best railway it can for the amount of money available”, said the infrastructure agency. “Whilst funding for enhancements to our railway is no longer included in this funding settlement, the Government has already committed substantial investment – some 96 billion pounds (112 billion euro) – in the Integrated Rail Plan, with a substantial portion of these funds being delivered in projects during the course of CP7.”

Sitting below the national overview, are four more detailed, regional plans for England and Wales, and plans for national functions. Scotland’s Railway continues to align CP7 plans with the separate HLOS and SoFA documents prepared by ministers in Edinburgh. These were published in February of this year, three months behind the equivalent documents for England and Wales. The final Scotland Control Period Seven document is expected in the Summer 2023.

Climate change adaptation strategy

Network Rail says It intends to deliver a more punctual and reliable railway in England and Wales. Their statement says it recognises the need to improve performance over the remainder of CP6 (2023-2024) and giving passengers and freight users the highest level of train performance possible in CP7. In addition to a shopping list of station lifts and escalators, lighting and passenger information systems, Network Rail has committed to more than double its investment in tackling climate change.

CrossCountry train at Dawlish sea wall
Coping with climate change. CrossCountry train at Dawlish sea wall

That climate change budget runs to 1.6 billion pounds (1.86 billion euro), and includes investment in earthworks and drainage renewals. NR will be creating dedicated earthworks and drainage teams, operational weather expertise, climate change adaptation strategy investment and continued investment in its Weather Risk Taskforce. “Our plans also include investment in the reduction of emissions and targeted net-zero initiatives, focussing on meeting Government objectives for biodiversity, air quality and waste”, said the agency.

Reshape the industry

An investment of 1.85 billion pounds (2.2 billion euro) is being made in signalling, to improve reliability and train performance. A sizeable proportion of that has already been committed to the East Coast Main Line, between London and Edinburgh, where Network Rail hopes to head off the capacity issues that have become apparent on the West Coast. “Our plans include investment in technology and research and development, and will facilitate the introduction of major projects such as Transpennine Route Upgrade, preparing for HS2 and other targeted investment across the country”, said their statement.

three quarters shot from ground level of a Freightliner class 66 hauling an aggregates train
Freightliner class 66 hauling an aggregates train

Freight has been targeted with continued growth. Network Rail says it has an ambitious but realistic target of 7.5 per cent growth across the network. They also have the substantial task of laying the foundations for Great British Railways – the overarching agency that will supersede Network Rail. “Our plan for CP7 is ambitious, focussed on our passengers and customers and reflects the current complexities and challenges facing the industry”, said Andrew Haines, Network Rail’s chief executive said. “There will no doubt be obstacles ahead and I look forward to working collaboratively with the sector to deliver this plan, reshape the industry and build a railway that is fit for the future.”

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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