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Government considering private funding for East Coast upgrades

Private funding may be needed for the necessary infrastructure changes to allow the new East Coast InterCity lines to run at 140mph, the government has said.

In response to a written question from Leeds MP Rachel Reeves, rail minister Claire Perry said that the rail industry and Virgin Trains East Coast are currently assessing the long-term requirements of the “complex” project.

She confirmed that, following recommendations in the recent Shaw report, this could include greater private sector financing.

“Nicola Shaw’s recent report promoted greater private sector financing for railway enhancements and my Department will be interested to see these proposals from the industry in due course,” said the rail minister.

Perry’s statement suggests that the government is taking on the growing calls, from Sir Peter Hendy in his keynote speech at Infrarail and elsewhere, for greater private sector funding. The call was also echoed this week by Mark Carne, Network Rail’s CEO, during a Transport Select Committee hearing on the Digital Railway plans.

Today’s ORR figures show that 2015-16 was the busiest year ever for Britain’s railways. Of course, higher passenger numbers are good news – they show growing and deserved success for the railway, as well as a growth in a more environmentally friendly form of transport than cars.

But in order to prevent the railways from becoming intolerably crowded, greater investment in infrastructure and rolling stock is required. This week, GTR unveiled its new 12-car Class 700 passenger train, designed to hold 1,700 passengers, in order to meet the travel needs of London’s growing population. Meeting unprecedented demand will require unprecedented ambition and funding, and it’s increasingly clear that that includes private sector finance.

(Image c. Chris Watt)

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