Good tidings for rail?
Did rail do well out of the Autumn Statement? There are serious questions to ask still. The government’s beaten a welcome retreat on rail fares … for now. But what was there for rail manufacturing looking for respite after the government’s shambles over Thameslink.
The government’s u-turn on rail fare increases is a welcome victory for the Campaign for Better Transport, rail unions and passenger groups who maintained the pressure on ministers. But the move is temporary and, as Manuel Cortes at TSSA has pointed out, this smacks of a tube fare sweetener for the incumbent Mayor of London ahead of next year’s election.
Let’s not forget either that 6% rises are still well ahead of pay awards and UK rail fares remain the most expensive in Europe, this is a retreat to unacceptable status quo. The Fair Fares Now campaign will be keeping up the pressure for affordable and fair ticketing for passengers.
Investment in Trans Pennine electrification is to be welcomed. But where will the rolling stock be coming from? There are several existing calls on ex-Thameslink stock already and no one yet knows when this will become available. And while support for Southern’s purchase of new stock made it in, the upgrade of Voyagers on Cross Country remained conspicuous by its absence and no other new rolling stock announcements were made. London commuters will continue the wait for the postponed new tube trains on the Piccadilly and Central Lines.
This might sound like mundane stuff but it represents a considerable missed opportunity. Accompanying electrification with a managed programme of new rolling stock procurement could have been a massive boost to the UK’s hard pressed rail manufacturing sector, providing potential investment into UK-based manufacturing supply chains and supporting high value jobs with significant multipliers in the wider economy. As it is, we have the usual make-do mess.