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Too much spending on London – and get rid of Pacers by 2020 says MPs

Too much spending is focused on London leaving the rest of the country unfairly stuck using old rolling stock from the capital, according to the Transport Select Committee, who are calling for Pacers to be eliminated by 2020 at the latest.

A new report from the committee has found that Department for Transport spending has been focused too much on London and calls for revised criteria to be published showing that funding allocations reflect the wider needs of the country.

The formula used so far has meant the "far south-west" has been "starved of investment", the MPs said.

They also said it is the responsibility of the DfT to ensure there is sufficient quality rolling stock to operate existing services and on newly electrified lines.

"Ministers must ensure there is sufficient rolling stock – of a decent quality – to run timetabled rail services and maximise the benefits of new infrastructure. Rising numbers of rail passengers have not being matched by investment in new rolling stock, resulting in overcrowding, and passengers unable to board some busy trains,” said Louise Ellman MP, chair of the Committee.

She added that it is “concerning” that the DfT chose to order new trains for passengers in London and the south east while expecting passengers in the rest of the country to be content with reconditioned older trains.

She said: “The secretary of state refused to tell us when the outdated and unpopular Pacer trains will be removed from the rail network — in Wales and the South West, as well as the North. We call for a clear commitment to remove Pacers from the rail network by 2020 at the latest."

The Committee was also critical of Network Rail and the chaos caused by the overrunning Christmas engineering works. They called for Network Rail to have adequate contingency plans and work with Passenger Focus as well as TOCs to improve communication with passengers when engineering works fail.

Ellman said: “The chaos faced by passengers over Christmas at King’s Cross and Paddington, and the continuing disruption at London Bridge, are unacceptable. They are also a worrying sign for the capacity of Network Rail to manage multiple, complex engineering projects simultaneously. Network Rail must demonstrate that it can deliver key improvements —such as electrification in the North West and the Great Western Main Line — on time, and while still delivering safe an efficient services for all passengers.”

Since Network Rail has become a public sector body, the Committee also believe that the Office of Rail Regulation should reconsider the way it regulates the rail operator, as fines may no longer be the most effective means.

The committee also made a number of other recommendations, including:

  • Greater transparency is essential around rail spending. Criteria used to allocate spending should be published.
  • A traffic-light system should provide clarity on the status of each rail investment project.
  • The public should be able to track the spending and outcomes for each Network Rail spending period
  • The needs of rail freight - a crucial part of the UK economy - must be balanced with those of passenger rail. Government should produce a strategy covering road and rail freight together.
  • The Office of Rail Regulation must consult on the track access charging regime with a view to reducing the current complexity

A DfT spokesman said: “We are investing record amounts in building a world-class railway as part of our long term economic plan and we have ambitious plans to improve rail services in the north. This includes improved east-west journey times through HS3, the replacement of Pacer trains and a £1bn investment programme in the region’s railways.

“Together they will improve services for passengers and help close the economic gap between north and south. We have made it clear to Network Rail that we expect the company to deliver the government’s investment programme on-time and on-budget.”

(Image source: Alvey and Towers)

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