Grant Shapps addresses rail industry concerns in letter to Transport Select Committee

Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps MP.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has published a letter from Secretary of State Grant Shapps to the Transport Select Committee in which he answers a number of questions about the future of the rail network.

When he appeared before the committee in October 2019, there were a number of questions that the Secretary of State didn’t have time to answer.  With the election and other issues out of the way, he has now answered them in this letter to committee chairman Huw Merriman MP.

A number of his answers refer to aviation and other forms of transport, but he addresses a number of railway topics including decarbonisation, electrification and the enhancements pipeline.

Climate change

Q – The Government’s response to the recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change announced that your Department would be developing a Transport Decarbonisation Plan. What work is being undertaken to develop this plan, and how will it differ from the Department’s past approach to decarbonising transport?

A – The UK’s first Transport Decarbonisation Plan was announced in recognition of the need to scale up efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in transport.

The groundwork for this work is underway, with the Government publishing a document shortly that brings together our work to date, and sets the challenge for decarbonising the sector. Our intention is then to publish the Transport Decarbonisation Plan before COP26, which, for the first time, will bring together a bold and ambitious programme of coordinated action needed to deliver UK transport’s contribution to net zero. It will consider all modes of transport holistically, looking at how people travel, how goods and services are delivered, and how our transport system will need to adapt and innovate to ensure the UK benefits from this transformation.

Rail decarbonisation

Q – The Rail Industry Decarbonisation Taskforce and RSSB presented its final report, responding to the Minister for Rail’s challenge to the industry to remove “all diesel only trains off the track by 2040” and “produce a vision for how the rail industry will decarbonise”, in July. When will the Government be responding to this?

A – I accept the Rail Industry Decarbonisation Taskforce recommendations for the Department. Rail is a comparatively green mode of transport, but I believe we must accelerate rail decarbonisation so the railway plays a major part in responding to the challenge of climate change. Rail decarbonisation will be an important element in the UK’s first Transport Decarbonisation Plan.

Network Rail is developing costed decarbonisation options to inform Government decisions about the scale and pace of rail decarbonisation needed, and about how we achieve this. This work will enable us to set the clear expectation of rail recommended by the Taskforce and will lay the foundations for achieving net zero by 2050. This work will also improve air quality on the rail network.

Electrification

Q – You told us that we could expect to see greater use of electrification on the railways. Can you provide some more detail on your plans to make greater use of electrification?

A – The Rail Industry Decarbonisation Taskforce has been clear that greater use of electrification, alongside deployment of newer technology, will be needed. Electrification will play a significant role in our programme to achieve our Net Zero 2050 objective.

Network Rail’s ongoing work will inform decisions about whether electrification or new technologies are the better option for each individual section of the network where diesel trains currently run and considers both passenger and freight services. This is a complicated process and it is right to take the time to do this properly. I will consider the case for exploring some electrification schemes more quickly as development of the strategy progresses. In deciding which early schemes to take forward, we will be considering the environmental impact as well as factors such as affordability; readiness of a scheme to proceed; deliverability; the disruption that might be experienced by passengers or freight operators during works; and availability of suitable rolling stock.

We have noted the helpful work undertaken by the Railway Industry Association about the cost of electrification and will ensure that lessons are learnt from previous electrification schemes and those currently underway, including in Scotland and Wales. We will continue to ensure that new schemes deliver value for money for taxpayers and that the industry is able to deliver a decarbonisation programme in a sustainable way.

Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline

Q – The Government published its plans for the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline in March 2018 but did not publish details of the proposals being considered through the pipeline until October 2019. Why did it take so long to publish this?

A – The Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline was published in March 2018, setting out the Government’s approach to funding enhancements for Control Period 6 (2019-2024). This provided stakeholders and the rail industry with more than a year to understand and prepare for the changes we implemented from the start of CP6. Approximately half-way through the first year of CP6, the Department judged that sufficient progress had been made on a variety of projects to provide a helpful and substantive update to the industry and stakeholders.

Q – The Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline states that schemes that are entirely third-party funded do not need to progress through the RNEP, as the DfT and Network Rail only require notification of the proposal. In February the then rail minister told us the Department has received 30 market led proposals for rail infrastructure investments that did not require government support, and the Department was continuing to engage with 10 proposals. Can you update us on how these 10 proposals have progressed? Does the Department plan to provide an update, similar to the RNEP, for market led proposals? If not, why not?

A – I am also pleased with the number of schemes which have entered the Pipeline since the start of the Control Period. Following the Hendy Review, and the reprofiling of several major schemes from CP5 to CP6, new and emerging priorities have also begun to proceed through the RNEP governance. Publishing the update on the RNEP now provides greater transparency and visibility on the priorities for investment than would otherwise have been available at the start of the Control Period.

Regarding third-party schemes, my Department and Network Rail will continue to support and publicise opportunities for investment in the railway network. As with the Gatwick Airport Station expansion scheme, which my Department announced in July 2019, third-party investment is a key part of our investment plans, and I look forward to seeing more schemes develop.

As with any private investment, commercial sensitivities may prevent publication of specific details during the development phase of a scheme. However, I will endeavour to raise awareness with the Committee where possible. We remain committed to maximising the benefits of private investment, taking advantage of new ideas and delivering value for money for taxpayers.

Railway Industry Association response

Commenting on electrification, the Secretary of State said that he “noted the helpful work undertaken by the Railway Industry Association (RIA) about the cost of electrification”.

Darren Caplan, RIA

In response to the release of these answers to the Transport Select Committee, RIA chief executive Darren Caplan said: “We welcome the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ confirmation that the Government will work to learn the positive lessons from past rail electrification schemes and explore the potential to speed up the development of some electrification schemes as its rail infrastructure strategy progresses. And we are also pleased to see a renewed commitment to the cross-sector Rail Industry Decarbonisation Report – it is clear that electrification of intensively-used lines is the best way to decarbonise the rail network.

“The industry and Government are in agreement on the cost of electrification. As RIA’s recent Electrification Cost Challenge report shows, we can reduce costs by up to 50% based on past projects. However, the key way to do so is to provide a consistent, rolling programme of electrification work, that allows rail businesses to build up capabilities and retain skilled labour.

“So commensurate with this, we urge the Government to deliver a rolling programme of investment for electrification, to both prevent a hiatus as current electrification schemes in the UK come to an end, and to ensure value for money for the taxpayer, given a rolling programme of electrification is more economically efficient and cost-effective than boom and bust in electrification investment.”

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