BETTER services, improved passenger information and the electrification of lines in the North East are just some of initiatives announced by rail chiefs yesterday.
Described as an initial plan, the programme covers the period 2014 to 2019 with the industry aiming to cut rail costs by £1.3bn a year by the end of the decade.
The “wish list” includes more than 700 extra services a day between cities in the North including Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool at a cost of £560m.
Assistant Area Director for Norther Rail Richard Allen was optimistic about the future. He said: “Rail services play a vital role in the economic development of the North of England. We also know that they contribute social and environmental benefits. We are committed to working with our industry partners.”
Also being considered is the electrification of hundreds of miles of track across the North Pennines to take in Newcastle, Durham, Darlington, and Middlesbrough.
This would affect routes to Tyneside and Teesside on First TransPennine Express.
Customer Services Director Edith Rodgers said: “This should mean that in future customers will benefit from improved journey times, increased capacity and better travel opportunities.”
She added: “The plans need to be studied in detail to help deliver these enhancements.”
The bill for the ambitious UK initiative could reach £10bn if given the green light. The announcement comes at a time when passenger numbers have jumped again by another 7% this year, a point taken up by Network Rail group strategy director Paul Plummer.
He said: “The railways are booming with more and more people choosing rail. Closer collaboration within the industry will deliver even more efficiencies.”
Rail chiefs believe that by better linking Britain’s cities, an extra 180,000 peak time seats could be provided, as well as accommodating a 30% increase in freight.
Coalition government Rail Minister Theresa Villiers welcomed the plan, saying: “It is encouraging to see members of the rail industry working together on long-term challenges we jointly face of maintaining investment while making the railway more affordable.”
The Government has already announced it is delivering 2,700 new rail carriages across the UK to ease overcrowding.
But there is also bad news with New Year rail fare rises of 8%.
Secretary of the Tyne and Wear Public Transport Users Group Kevin Flynn said: “Fares are going up all the time. What people want is a cheap, reliable, punctual service in which they feel safe.
“If you talk about expansion you have got to be prepared to put money in. But the very opposite is happening.”
There was also a sceptical reaction from the RMT union. General Secretary Bob Crow told The Journal: “We have fought for investment in the railways in the teeth of the scandalous profiteering from the private train operators that has drained billions of pounds away from the industry – money which could have put the rail industry in to the fast lane.”
Rail chiefs also want to close 800 signal boxes with operations being transferred to 14 signaling centres.
Last year Sir Roy McNulty’s report into the railways called for £1bn worth of efficiency savings. His recommendations and this latest document from the rail industry will be considered by the Government when deciding how much money is available to spend.
Details are not expected to be released until July next year.