What’s for the chop?
Things had been looking suspiciously rosy, with hindsight. The rail industry suddenly looked as if it was going to get a lot of the things that it had argued for since before privatisation. Over the last year, electrification, high-speed rail and longer franchises were announced by the Labour government – all were greeted enthusiastically by the rail industry. Lord Adonis, the most popular secretary of state for transport in years – maybe the most popular ever – waved his magic wand and brought about the most desperately-needed reforms that the railways needed in order to move forward.
Except that he didn’t, of course, because all he could do in the short time that he had was to start the ball rolling. None of his grand plans were going to come to fruition before the Brown government’s term came to an end, so it was never going to be within his control to see any of them through. And Philip Hammond, the new transport secretary, has already made it clear that there are likely to be cuts (see page 17).
So, realistically, what will we be left with? Longer franchises are supported by the coalition’s first policy document. Electrification also gets a mention in the policy document, Our Programme for Government, but there’s no guarantee at this stage that all the electrification schemes announced by Adonis would all go ahead or, if they do, that they would stick to the original timetable, which was to complete them by 2017. HS2 looks like continuing. High-speed rail is endorsed in the policy document – both the Tories and Lib Dems are strongly in favour of it and, with such a long horizon, the expensive bit of the project will not fall within the current government term.
What most people are worried about, though, is the big schemes currently in progress, some of which could potentially be cancelled or downsized. The Thameslink rolling stock contract has not yet been awarded and Hitachi’s IEP order is still on ice. Crossrail has barely begun and the Thameslink programme is only a couple of years in. And, of course, there are numerous smaller schemes that could be scaled back, for example the redevelopment work at King’s Cross and Birmingham New Street stations.
Several commentators have predicted that the IEP order will be one of the first casualties of the cuts. With the exception of Hitachi, which will have spent many millions on its bid at this point, few would lament the passing of the IEP if it meant giving the new administration a ‘quick win’ when it begins wielding its scythe. Plus, its demise could bode rather well for Adonis’s electrification plans. The poor old HSTs can’t limp on forever, they will need to be replaced either with new electric trains or with something along the lines of IEP at some point. Choose the first option and you will have to put up the wires on which to run them.
But what of the other schemes? The policy document states ‘we support Crossrail’, though of course it could be scaled down. Thameslink may be more of a worry. First Capital Connect MD Neal Lawson thinks the scheme is too far advanced for anything more than light pruning (see page 21). And, of course, it runs through Boris Johnson’s patch. The mayor has wasted no time in arguing for London’s rail schemes to go ahead – he has already met with fellow Tory Philip Hammond. As for the schemes that don’t involve the capital, such as the Northern Hub, we’ll just have to wait and see.