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Government industrial strategy aims to tackle ‘historic underinvestment’ in rail

The government’s new green paper outlining its industrial strategy for the UK has outlined proposals to boost the rail industry, including a plan to tackle “historic underinvestment” in the railway network.

The strategy highlights the government’s commitments to projects such as HS2, the planned east-west Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Midlands Rail Hub, along with wider improvements to the railway network including skills training and digital modernisation.

The strategy has been welcomed by those within the industry, but criticised by campaigners who have said that it places too much emphasis on large headline-grabbing projects.

“Though the UK has pioneered many types of infrastructure from railways to mobile telecoms, the quality of our transport infrastructure has been rated as second lowest among G7 countries,” the strategy paper admitted.

“This has been driven by factors such as a lack of clear long-term plans and budgets, a complex planning system, and failure to align planning for infrastructure with planning for housing and industry.”

The government emphasised its plans to change this through Budget development funding for major infrastructure projects like the Midlands Rail Hub and Northern Powerhouse Rail, as it highlighted its intent to boost economic infrastructure investment by almost 60% – reaching £22bn by 2020-21 with the help of its new National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).

Stressing its intent to move away from “stop-go” planning for infrastructure with its new National Infrastructure Delivery Plan, the government also placed an emphasis on supporting better local decision-making through the new mayoral combined authorities and regional bodies like Transport for the North.

The green paper took care to highlight action already underway on rail infrastructure through the NPIF, such as the £450m to boost Digital Railway measures to expand smart ticketing as announced in last year’s Autumn Statement.

It also highlighted the improvement of industry-wide training through the creation of “sector-specific national colleges” and initiatives such as the Transport Infrastructure Skills Strategy and Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce (STAT), which aims to create 30,000 new apprenticeships in the transport sector by 2020.

In the wake of the paper, the Rail Supply Group (RSG) offered its support to the government in its aim to develop a “comprehensive” industrial strategy for the UK.

“We will work with the government on this to strengthen the capability and competitiveness of the UK rail supply chain to grow business at home and abroad,” said Gordon Wakeford, industry chair of the RSG.

“If we are clever with our approach, it's not just the current UK rail industry that will benefit from increasing investment in the railway; jobs and opportunities can be cascaded across the entire country.”

However, Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) was more critical of the strategy, reiterating its argument that the government needs to help the “beleaguered” local rail network rather than investing in high-stakes projects.

“The government is right to identify upgrading transport infrastructure as a key part of its new industrial strategy,” said James MacColl, CBT’s head of campaigns.

“However too much money is being wasted on damaging big schemes, while high value local transport services continue to be neglected.”

The campaign group urged the government not to waste the money on new roads but instead get “more bang for the taxpayer’s buck” by investing in everyday local transport services such as buses, local road maintenance and our “beleaguered rail network which is bursting at the seams”.

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SWB   24/01/2017 at 21:24

Hopefully any long-term plans will be made in consultation with all political parties. Otherwise it is likely to be a huge waste of time and money since any plans made solely by the current government will be summarily rejected when a new government takes over. Sadly such broad-minded thinking is notoriously absent when such decisions are taken.

Lutz   26/01/2017 at 09:50

So "Electrification" as such is off the list of priorities which is understandable given that it will not directly deliver the necessary capacity improvements.

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