£8.5bn plans outlined to improve region’s rail services over next five years

Network Rail earthworks at Blisworth, Northamptonshire

An £8.5bn business plan to improve rail services throughout the region has been unveiled today (May 19).

Network Rail’s North West and Central region outlined proposals that it says puts passengers and freight customers at the heart of the improvements.

The regional Strategic Business Plan (SBP) covers the projected activities, outputs and cost of operating, maintaining and renewing its railway infrastructure between 2024 and 2029.

The publication is a milestone in the process to determine Network Rail’s funding requirements for the five years to 2029, which are known as ‘Control Periods’, and the next five years will be Control Period 7 (CP7).

The North West and Central region is the economic spine connecting the country’s main cities – London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool – with vital links to Scotland.

It is devolved into three ‘routes’ – West Coast South, Central and North West – all working closely with train operators, politicians and partners to address the local needs of passengers while working together across the regional and national railway network to get passengers and vital freight goods to where they need to be.

In the North West and Central region the main priorities over CP7 will be:

  • Improved train performance: Running a cost-effective and efficient railway for the taxpayer while keeping passengers and freight trains moving safely to a reliable timetable. Major investment will take place to prevent delays caused by adverse weather and climate change in the form of drainage upgrades to reduce the risk of tracks flooding, earthwork projects to prevent landslips and upgrading overhead power lines and track to make them less likely to fail in extreme temperatures.
  • Environment: A focus on sustainability so the railway not only remains the greenest form of public transport, but its operations do, too, with the introduction of electric fleet vehicles and employing latest carbon-saving technology across offices and maintenance depots.
  • Sustainable growth: Improving current infrastructure to improve passengers’ experience and make the railway accessible for all. 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, along with supporting the continued growth of rail freight through an ambitious but realistic target of 7.5% growth across the national network.

Tim Shoveller, Network Rail’s North West and Central region managing director, said: “Running a safe, green and efficient railway on the West Coast and Chiltern main lines along with the Midlands, North West and Cumbria is crucial to the country’s economic success which is why our plan for CP7 is ambitious, focused on our passengers and customers and reflects the current complexities and challenges facing the industry.

“Yet it’s not only about running the railway we already have, but making sure it works in harmony with the construction of the new zero-carbon railway HS2 which continues at pace, and also East West Rail with services due to start running on Phase 2 by December 2024.

“This will, no doubt, be challenging, but when complete will transform Britain’s railway – and this funding from government means the North West and Central region will continue to be a foundation stone of these new rail routes for the future.”

Network Rail’s funding is made available from governments over five-year periods, known as control periods, with control period 7 (CP7) starting on April 1, 2024 and running until 2029.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) will now review this initial strategic business plan and review how it measures up against the Government’s HLOS (high-level output specification) and SoFA (statement of funds available), and publish its draft determination on this plan later this year including targets, measures and incentives it will hold Network Rail to deliver over CP7.