July 7th 2010
Rail chiefs are alarmed at plans to shelve orders for 1300 new coaches needed to ease chronic over crowding - particularly in the north.
The National Audit Office's report ‘Increasing Passenger Rail Capacity', has questioned the need for more vehicles in the recession despite passenger numbers doubling over the past ten years. New transport secretary, Philip Hammond, has ordered a review of costs.
Says Travelwatch North-West's chairman, Chris Dale, ‘Whatever the situation in the South-East, which appears to receive the Department for Transport's predominant attention, rail travel continues to grow in the North-West and overcrowding is a major problem.
‘Numerous examples of excessive overcrowding on inadequate trains have been witnessed in all parts of the region as passenger numbers have grown. (There are) many incidents of passengers being left on stations because trains are so full.'
Help could be on the way. Industry leaders want to see longer franchises enabling private companies to attract more investment to buy new rolling stock and expand stations. This view is reflected by Philip Hammond who admits public finance will be tight.
Hammond believes new and innovative ways of attracting investment must be found. The supply of 1300 additional carriages was pledged by the previous Government and is regarded as the minimum needed to address overcrowding. The process was slowed down and the replacement HST scheme was also shelved.
Austerity measures could put new government orders on hold. However, rail chiefs point to private sector build-and-run projects going ahead in France and the Netherlands. Mr Hammond is expected to look more closely at expanding private sector involvement in stock procurement.
At the same time Network Rail, as an entity, will come under increased scrutiny. Already the company has been told to slash £100m of its costs.