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Sub-national transport bodies in England should have a "formal advisory role" in setting rail investment priorities and budgets, according to a new report from transport thinktank Greengauge 21.
The report – Setting regional budgets for rail investment – considers what rail enhancement budgets could look like for the rest of England and for Wales, if set on a similar basis to that used by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) for the Midlands and the North of England.
The report says that the NIC sets the amount of £86.2bn as a 25 year rail enhancement budget for the Midlands and North in its Rail Needs Assessment for the Integrated Rail Plan. It even suggests that government could – and perhaps should – increase this budget by 25%, making a total of £107.8bn.
This approach broke new ground allocated the North and the Midlands budget shares of the national total based on population levels.
Greengauge 21 applied the same approach for the rest of the country. However while the population of the South and East of England plus Wales is greater than that of the North and Midlands (56% against 44%), it found that the rail enhancement budget would be much lower: just £25bn.
As such, Greengauge 21 director Jim Steer said that “sub-national transport bodies in England should be given a formal advisory role in setting rail investment priorities and budgets".
He added: "We hope this piece of work will help identify a path to budget-setting, followed by careful assessments of the economic, social and environmental benefits of rail enhancement, region by region.”
The formation of Great British Railways will set out a long term strategy for the railways, as set out in the recent Williams-Shapps Review. Greengauge 21 said this must demonstrate how its investment choices reflect national policy and respond to local and regional priorities.
According to the think tank, the investment in the Midlands and North heralds a serious rebalancing of rail expenditure, away from London and the South East.
It said that the greater populations of the South and East had not generated an even larger budget allocation than the less populated North and Midlands because the NIC took into account the programme of prospective major rail enhancements visible in the pipeline. It found some very big projects for the North and Midlands, especially once the full cost of High Speed 2 (HS2) as well as Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) is allocated.
Contrastingly, the South and East have few rail enhancements in prospect, with Crossrail 2 for example now on ice. According to the NIC, its budget has already been largely reallocated elsewhere, and so is unavailable to be added to the enhancement budget in the way that HS2 and NPR budgets were added in for the North and Midlands.
There are some – smaller – budget add-ons for the South, East and Wales, such as East-West Rail and completion of the Great Western Electrification project. Greengauge21 estimates that these add £6bn, making an overall total of £25bn.
The report adds that decarbonising the transport sector will drive a need for large scale rail electrification.
New lines such as HS2 can make major contributions, reducing long-haul road and short-haul air traffic, but substantial parts of the existing national rail network still remain to be electrified. London and the South East is well placed, with the rail system here already largely electrified.
But Greengauge 21 said that in terms of electrification, the Midlands and North, and South West England and Wales would merit the equivalent of a 25% budget increase to overcome the weaknesses of unimproved networks and reliance on diesel-powered trains. It calls for the government's levelling up agenda to have a Wales and West component, as well one for the Midlands and North.
This article first appeared on www.newcivilengineer.com
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