Anger over delays in key rail overhaul

Delays: Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is warning rail improvement works will be delayed
Delays: Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is warning rail improvement works will be delayed
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Union chiefs today attacked Government delays over a multi-billion pound overhaul of the UK’s rail network.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told MPs the £38bn five year plan to improve Britain’s railways is being “reset” because it is “costing more and taking longer”.

Among the schemes effected will be the electrification work on the Transpennine route between Leeds and Manchester which will be “paused”.

Mr McLoughlin blamed Network Rail for the problems and told MPs none of the executive directors would get a bonus for the past year.

But National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) condemned the move.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Clearly there are major problems on the rail infrastructure which are down to resourcing, fragmentation, short staffing and the fact that vast sums of money that could finance these essential upgrade works are being bled away in private rail company profits.

“To argue that delays to electrification in the North and on the Midland Main Line is consistent with George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ rhetoric is ridiculous.

“Britain’s railways will be jammed in the slow lane all the time they are nothing more than a money making racket for the private sector.”

Mr McLoughlin said: “Important aspects of Network Rail’s investment programme are costing more and taking longer. Electrification is difficult. The UK supply chain for the complex signalling works needs to be stronger, construction rates have been slow.

“It has taken longer to obtain planning consents from some local authorities than expected.

“But that is no excuse - all of these problems could and should have been foreseen by Network Rail.”

He added: “Successive governments failed to invest the sums necessary in our rail network - that is why we find ourselves in the situation we are in today.”

Shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher said the Government’s “total failure” to deliver a fit for purpose railway had been “completely and so damningly exposed”.

He referred to the publication of the latest National Rail passenger survey which showed satisfaction has dropped once gain and criticised the “shelving” of key investments projects.

Mr Dugher said: “The truth is passengers have had to endure a catalogue of failure on our railways by ministers since 2010.

“Ministers may try to shift all the blame to Network Rail, but this happened on the Government’s watch and the responsibility for this mess lies squarely with the Government.

“We have been warning time and time again there needs to be fundamental changes in how our railways are run.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Years of rip-off privatisation have left our railways starved of investment.

Delaying much-needed upgrade work for the Midland Mainline and North Transpennine routes is the last thing passengers need.

“Putting the brakes on railway modernisation will mean longer journey times and extending the lifetime of trains built in the 1980s.

“Today’s decision is also bad for regional growth and jobs. How can the government expect to build a northern powerhouse if it is unwilling stump up funds for vital transport links and infrastructure?”

Network Rail executive Mark Carne said: “During my first year in the job I have looked closely at every aspect of our business and it has become clear that Network Rail signed up to highly ambitious five-year targets set by the regulator.

“Based on historic improvements from a low base, we were overly optimistic about the capacity of our company and our supplier base to step up several gears in order to achieve the plan, especially given the complexities of a network that is at full capacity much of the time.