Thursday, 9 July 2015

Railway modernisation paused

It is personally gratifying but also depressing, considering the wider community, when ones views on a failure of public policy are confirmed by an independent source. According to the Signal Failures column in Private Eye no. 1396, the government denied that it had misled voters before the general election and said that Network Rail had only recently revealed the scale of its difficulties with the investment programme announced under the coalition. However, the writer draws attention to PE issues of February and April this year which cast doubt on the government's line.

On 3rd April, Eye 1389 suggested that

NR was holding information about the rail projects it would dump until "after the general election, when we'll learn how many of the Tories' rail promises will be dropped or deferred".

In Eye 1386, NR was

"helping insulate the Tories' election campaign from bad news on rail electrification" by pretending north-west electrification was "on schedule" and keeping mum about the consequences of Great Western electrification delays.

But there is more than anonymous insider information.

NR is a government body within the Department for Transport; and not only is transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin accountable to parliament for NR's "performance and activities", but DafT' permanent secretary Philip Rutnam is NR's principal accounting officer, accountable for "stewardship" of NR's resources. So either they withheld what they knew about NR [...] or they ensured that they remained ignorant for months about NR's "performance and activities" and its use of "resources". Neither explanation seems compatible with the Civil Service's "core value" of impartiality.

The same edition (1396) of the Eye adds an even stronger motive for providing the rails and wires for the Hitachi trains referred to in a previous post. Under the deal, the contractor will get an estimated £400,000 per day from early 2018 onwards, whether the sets are running or not.

The English are in worse trouble

So there are strong incentives for the government to ensure that a major proportion of the Wales and West electrification is completed by 2018. There is no such pressure on the trans-Pennine project which has dire implications for other rail travellers in the north of England. As a recent File on 4 explained, the original programme envisaged that the relatively modern class 170 Turbostar diesels released by electrification would replace 30-year-old Pacers on other parts of the network in what is known as a "cascade". It looks as if the Northern Powerhouse is going to be served by ancient (and uncomfortable, as Swanline and Valley Lines patrons will attest) glorified railbuses. At least our Pacers will be swept away directly by electrification.

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