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The future for Network Rail: politicians set out pre-Election case

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Railway Civil Engineers' Association hustings sees politicians debate the big transport issues ahead of the General Election 

What is the future for Network Rail under a new administration? Should a new government review the network operator role, or maintain the status quo?

The Railway Civil Engineers Association brought together five party spokesmen to debate the role of Network Rail plus a range of other issues affecting the railway industry to tease out the policy differences.

And while there was resounding cross party support for investment in infrastructure as a driver for the UK economy, there were distinct differences in view on specifics around Network Rail's performance, the value of HS2, minimising disruption and how best to improve the service offered to the public.

Click here to listen to the discussion chaired at the ICE by Infrastructure Intelligence Editor Antony Oliver.

Question:  what is the future for Network Rail under your party in government?

Lord Bill Bradley, Liberal Democrat, Lords spokesperson, Transport

"My instinct is that you should not completely reorganise as you use up valuable time perhaps three years, and demoralise the people – it is better to make a not very good organisation better than it is to tear the thing up. Network Rail is setting out on a journey."

Tony McNulty, Labour, former transport minister

"I think that we have got to take stock. Everyone knows that the reason for this particular model was to get the railways off the Government’s book. Now it is back on the books so much of the yearning from the people for everything to be renationalised has gone. But it can’t just be back on the books without it meaning something more. So while I am not waving a hand saying let’s bring back British Rail, we do need a review – the last thing we want now is status quo."

Roger Helmer MEP, UKIP, spokesman on Energy and Industry.

"It is better to make what you have got work than to turn it on its head, so don’t renationalise it. If I was in charge of transport I would be asking the rail industry for their solutions to the problems."

Stephen Hammond MP, Conservative, former Transport Minister

"Whoever is in government after the next election they will face three major challenges around Network Rail – the challenge of accountability, the challenge of cost and the challenge of reliability of service. But there will also be a challenge of working with Network Rail to change its culture. We have lost some of the reliability targets we saw a year ago and it is simply not good enough for Network Rail to say that because it runs more trains, the service delivery should go down. There is also a cost issue and there will be a clear demand from government that [Network Rail] look at many of its projects again." 

Caroline Russell, Green Party national spokesperson Local Transport & PPC Islington North 

“It is a very difficult question as there are huge issues around demand and a very complex programme of work. There seems to be more of a communication problem thatnan engineering one [for Network Rail]. But the difficulties are worsened by the fragmented state of the industry. We need the railway to be more integrated so that the passenger experience is improved – but you can have integration [between train and track operators] without necessarily being the same organisation.”

Other questions:

  • Should Network Rail regulation change?
  • What is the plan for prioritisation?
  • Is HS2 the best way to invest in the railways?
  • Planning reform
  • The size of rail fare?
  • Cost escalation
  • International comparators
  • Tackling skills shortages

To listen to the discussion click here