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$A57.9bn plan for Britain's rail unveiled


A STG37.5 billion ($A57.90 billion) plan to run and expand the railways in the period 2014-19 has been unveiled by Network Rail (NR).

If approved, the plan will provide 170,000 extra commuter seats at peak times by 2019, by which time the railways could be carrying as many as 225 million more passengers than at present.

But despite the big investment plans, NR envisages no overall improvement in train punctuality compared with the trains-on-time target for 2009-2014.

A figure of 92.5 per cent punctuality was set for the period 2009-2014 - a target which NR has failed to meet.

In Tuesday's business plan, the company said it expected to achieve a trains-on-time figure of 92.5 per cent "by the end" of the period 2014-2019.

NR also warned that even with the extra trains and seats this would "not be enough" on the busy West Coast Main Line where the added capacity of the London to Birmingham HS2 high-speed rail line project was, it said, "essential".

And NR chief executive Sir David Higgins added the industry, under pressure to cut costs, had entered "the era of trade-offs".

"Increasingly we have to balance the need to build more infrastructure, run trains on time and cut costs, and in many areas choices will need to be made."

The NR plans come at a time of British passenger anger at the above-inflation 4.2 per cent season ticket average fare rises this month.

Publication of the high salaries and attractive bonuses of some of the bosses of the train operators' parent companies has also done little to assuage commuter ire.

To be agreed with and approved by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), the NR plan envisages improvements that by 2019 will:

* See 225 million more passengers per year travelling and 355,000 more trains in service - the highest numbers ever;

* Provide 20 per cent extra morning peak seats into central London and 32 per cent into large regional cities in England and Wales;

* Provide 700 more trains a day linking key northern cities and a 10-minute reduction in journey time between Manchester and Leeds;

* See 30 per cent more freight being carried currently;

* Cut CO2 emissions per passenger by 37 per cent and reduce risk at level crossings by eight per cent;

* Plan a move away from more than 800 signal boxes to 14 major operations centres;

* Reduce the cost of running Britain's railways by a further 18 per cent and cut annual public subsidy to between STG2.6 billion and STG2.9 billion in 2019 - down from STG4.5 billion in 2009 and STG7 billion in 2004.

Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail Maritime and Transport union, said: "While we support any plans to expand and invest in Britain's railways, you cannot seriously expect to safely increase capacity while at the same time the government is looking to axe key frontline staff on trains, track and stations.

"If the government press on with the jobs cuts plans, they will simply be cramming more and more people into an overcrowded and unreliable service where safety is compromised and the profits of the private train operators are prioritised.

"That is simply a recipe for disaster."