After months and months of rail strikes, we’re definitely due a bit of a break from disruption to our train journeys. But it looks like those delays and cancellations aren’t going to go away any time soon.
A leaked presentation intended for rail industry bosses, which was obtained by The Independent, shows Network Rail has privately admitted that there isn’t enough money to maintain Britain’s railways as it stands. Without changes to government funding, it will fail to ‘operate, maintain and renew’ the railway at its current service levels.
Other parts of the document revealed that Network Rail will take a ‘market-led’ approach to maintenance, prioritising the rail services that make the most money, as well as carrying out fewer repairs which could lead to more delays and accidents.
Passengers and commuters have been hit by a 5.9 percent rise in rail fares in recent months despite statistics showing that 4.5 percent of all trains were cancelled in the last quarter of 2022 – the highest proportion since comparable records began in 2014. In other words, travelling by train at the moment sucks, and things might get even worse.
As well as cuts to infrastructure and maintenance, the leaked documents also showed that National Rail has cut its usual £3 billion ‘risk fund’ which is most often used to cover extreme weather events.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT rail union, said that the government seemed ‘hell-bent’ on pursuing the managed decline of Britain’s railways, accusing it of ‘cutting investment, slashing services and staff numbers, scrapping vital infrastructure projects and rewarding failed private train operators like Avanti with lucrative contract extensions’.
When asked to comment on the possible cuts and threat of more disruption, a Network Rail spokesperson blamed ‘the headwinds of inflation and constraints on public spending’ for stopping the organisation from what it wants to achieve. They added that Network Rail’s business plan for the next five years will be published soon.