Grayling admits DfT did not evaluate East West Rail privatisation benefits
Transport secretary Chris Grayling has admitted that the DfT did not carry out a thorough evaluation of the time and cost benefits of privatising the new route between Oxford and Cambridge, despite the major decision marking the first time since the 1990s that Britain will have integrated rail operation.
Pressed at the Commons by Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, who represents Carshalton and Wallington, Grayling argued that the “assumption that Network Rail should always do everything does not ever give us any benchmarks to judge whether someone else can do it better”.
Instead, the secretary of state proposed: “I want to use this as an opportunity, in a way that does not affect the rest of the network, to test the way that we are doing things, and to see whether we can do them quicker and better.”
As well as inquiring about a potential cost-benefit analysis of the East West Rail privatisation benefits, Brake also asked the transport secretary if he envisaged other projects being run in this way, and if he would consider allowing the public sector to bid for train franchises going forward.
While he dodged the latter question, Grayling did imply that the model, if successful, could be replicated – arguing that it is “good for our rail sector to have a bit of contestability”.
“The Oxford-Cambridge corridor is a much broader project than just a railway line. It is seen as a key development corridor by the Treasury and the National Infrastructure Commission,” he added.
“We also need to look at the construction of improved road links between the two, so it is much more complicated than simply saying, ‘it’s a railway line’. However, we need to build a model that secures developer contributions on the route.”
Although only having taken up the post a few months ago, Grayling has already caused a significant stir in the DfT’s rail decisions. As well as announcing that East West Rail would be taken forward by a new organisation yesterday, he also outlined plans for closer, more joined-up working between Network Rail and operators – potentially through alliance models already seen elsewhere in the industry.
He has also scrapped plans to devolve suburban rail operations in the capital to Transport for London (TfL), despite the previous transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, making firm commitments around this to former London mayor Boris Johnson when plans were first announced in January. TfL had already picked the four routes that were ideal for devolution, and the capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, endorsed the proposals in a recent business case.
(Top image c. Dominic Lipinski, PA Wire)
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