Is there the political will for rail investments in future?

George Osborne at Norwich Railway Station flanked by Chloe Smith and Ben Gummer.

George Osborne at Norwich Railway Station flanked by Chloe Smith and Ben Gummer. - Credit: copyright: Archant 2013

I really hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the government as a whole, keeps the promise to upgrade the main line between East Anglia and London. It is a long overdue project.

There is no “new” money associated with the project which has been costed by rail experts as being about £550 million.

But actually when you look at the breakdown of the costs involved, there doesn’t need to be “new” money – there just needs to be accurate targeting of the money that does become available.

So let’s look at the money. The cost of introducing a new track north of Chelmsford has been estimated at £150 million, other improvements on the line have a £200 million price tag.

Every five years Network Rail is allowed to spend literally billions on track upgrades and maintenance, much of it directed by the Department for Transport.


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It is not a huge demand that £350 million of that should be directed at one section of track in one part of the country, it is the kind of decision that has been made in different parts of the country many times.

The £200 million cost of buying new trains would also be a requirement of the next rail franchise – again there is nothing new in that. Virgin won the west coast franchise originally on the promise that it would introduce Pendolino trains.

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What is needed is the political will to push these decisions through. I accept George Osborne has that will – however will he still be in Number 11 when the franchises and investment decisions are made? MPs Ben Gummer and Chloe Smith have been pushing the case for investment very hard. But will the momentum be retained if they are not in the House of Commons after 2015? The key decisions will be made in 2016-18.

I’m not at all sure that the current government’s enthusiasm would be shared by the opposition.

Shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said she knew how bad the service is in this region following Mr Osborne’s visit.

But what did Labour do to make things better in this region during their 13 years in power? The only changes we saw were organisational, replacing three rail franchises with just one.

The only new trains were the Turbostars which now operate on the rural lines, there were no new main-line trains (unless you want to get excited about replacing 35-year-old locomotives with 18-year-old ones!).

So for Labour to attack the Tories for not doing enough to improve services is a bit rich.

And I do have a sneaking worry that an incoming Labour government might see improving services to their heartlands like the Midlands and north of England as a greater priority than boosting services to the Tory voters of East Anglia.

Or am I just being too cynical for my own good?

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