New government rail strategy to unite train operation and track management

A new government rail strategy is set to deliver major changes to the UK’s railways. The one-size-fits-all approach to franchising would be brought to an end, while teams could be created to link up the publicly and privately held parts of the network, according to BBC News.

The new model would be piloted with the East Coast mainline from 2020. The companies that operate passenger services would also manage the track infrastructure in a bid to deliver better services for the public. At present, the track is managed by state-owned Network Rail, while trains are operated by private companies.

Virgin Trains founder Sir Richard Branson welcomed the move: “I’ve always said that having a single, centralised rail infrastructure provider across the UK doesn’t work. There needs to be a greater local focus and [Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s] announcement is a welcome move in this direction.”

The strategy also proposes re-opening some sections of the railway network which were closed in the 1960s and 70s under the Beeching reforms. Around 4,000 miles of track was cut from the network in this period, particularly in rural areas.

Initial projects to re-open closed sections of the network will focus on a direct line between Oxford and Cambridge, and plans for Bristol, Birmingham, Exeter and the North East.

The government is also considering the splitting of two of the country’s largest train operators, Great Western and GTR, which operates Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern trains.

UK to spend over $24bn on upgrading and improving road network until 2021

Britain’s road network is to benefit from major improvements over the next 8 years and road building companies are advised to prepare for a huge increase in work as a result of a GBP24bn investment in the road network, the UK government’s Department for Transport revealed on Monday.

The government is to triple funding on upgrades and improvements to the UK’s road network until 2021, reportedly the largest investment made in the UK’s road network since the 1970s.

Locked-in funding commitments of an annual spend of GBP3bn on improvements and maintenance for the strategic network alone will support almost 30,000 new jobs in the construction sector.

Major improvements will be made to strategic roads from 2015 to 2020/21 as a result of an investment of GBP10.7bn and the government is also planning to spend GBP6.1bn on resurfacing 80% of the strategic network. A further GBP6bn will be being spent on repairing potholes on local authority roads.

Under the spending reforms, the Highways Agency will be turned into a government-owned company, which will help to improve commercial efficiency and cut running costs. It is anticipated that road users in Britain will benefit from a more effective road network and will have a greater say in how the roads operate. Also, taxpayers are expected to benefit from savings of at least GBP2.6bn over the next 10 years.

The long-term funding was announced in the 2013 Spending Review along with the Department for Transport’s ‘Action for Roads’, a command paper that sets out the long-term vision for the road network from 2015. The funding is expected to provide the security for road building contractors to be able to make commercial decisions.

Roads Minister Robert Goodwill said:

“Funding certainty is critical to the construction industry in planning for the future and that is exactly what the government has delivered – with GBP24bn secure investment over 6 years and GBP50bn for the strategic road network over the next 15 years. However, we need to make sure everyone is ready to deliver the massive programme of investment that we need to keep Britain’s roads moving.

“To do that, we need to make sure we have the right people and equipment in place to deliver the 53 road schemes in preparation right now, plus the next generation of improvements over the next 7 years. This means taking on more apprentices and making sure suppliers have the capacity to deal with the increase in demand. If we get this right, this will provide road users with a high performing network that can cope with the expected 43% increase in traffic over the coming decades that will help boost economy growth and deliver more efficient roads for motorists.”

Clean Bus Technology Fund to award grants to 11 local authorities

Local Transport Minister Norman Baker announced today that GBP5m from the Clean Bus Technology Fund has been awarded to eleven local authorities in towns and cities in England for the upgrade of nearly 400 older buses, helping to clean up emissions in some of the most polluted urban areas.

The clean Bus Technology Fund was launched in June and 31 local authorities outside of Greater London, where air quality does not meet European Commission standards, submitted bids for grants of up to GBP1m to support upgrading buses with pollution-reducing technology.

The entrants were asked to develop new technologies that demonstrated the likelihood of success in improving air quality. They could also use proven technologies, such as exhaust after-treatment and conversion to hybrid propulsion or cleaner low carbon fuels. Within the top 11 local authorities, new technologies included a hybrid flywheel, which can deliver up to 20% fuel reduction and harmful emissions, a gas engine replacement and other innovative modifications.

The projects had to meet 5 criteria: to fit with the objectives of establishing the best technologies and development of the retrofit industry; air quality impact; value for money; deliverability; and if they offered cross-cutting benefits such as encouraging economic growth.

The 11 winning areas are West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive; Merseytravel; Greater Manchester; Southampton City Council; Leicester City Council and Leicestershire County Council; Suffolk County Council; Gateshead Council, Newcastle City Council and Nexus; Lincolnshire County Council and City of Lincoln Council; St Albans City and District Council; Cheshire West and Cheshire Borough Council; and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

The Environment Minister Lord de Mauley said “This funding boost will bring real improvements to air quality around the country which is good news for the environment and our health. I am keen to embrace new technology and encourage local authorities to share their experience so that others can follow suit.”

UK transport group Stagecoach acquires Manchester operator Bluebird

British bus and rail public transportation provider Stagecoach Group Plc (LON:SGC) said today it will acquire the north Manchester bus activities of private operator Bluebird for GBP2m (USD3.2m/EUR2.5m).

The deal was signed and will be carried out by Stagecoach’s wholly-owned indirect unit Greater Manchester Buses South Ltd. It involves the purchase of a leased depot site in north Manchester along with around 40 vehicles.

With this acquisition, Stagecoach will grow its own bus operations in the Greater Manchester region, where the company has some 630 buses and 1,850 employees. According to Stagecoach UK Bus managing director Les Warneford there is scope to develop the operation and lure more clients.

To take over the target business, Stagecoach will first need to get the Office of Fair Trading’s approval. The company anticipates to close the transaction in the first quarter of 2013.

Bluebird’s business operates commercial and supported bus services in north Manchester, where it has a staff of about 80 people. It booked an operating profit of GBP330,000 and EBITDA of GBP480,000 on revenues of GBP4m in the 12 months to 31 January 2012. The acquired operations will become part of Stagecoach Manchester, while employees will be transferred to Greater Manchester Buses South.

Network Rail staff face the sack if they live 75mins away from headquarters

A union has claimed that Network Rail staff are being threatened with redundancy if they live further than 75 minutes travelling time from the new Milton Keynes headquarters.

According to the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, rail managers have been told they must get to the new multi-million pound site within 90 minutes – which is located next to Milton Keynes railway station.

The TSSA announced that 850 members of staff could face redundancy if failed to reach the Buckinghamshire base on time.

However Network Rail revealed that they only expected 150 members of staff to face problems meeting the latest regulation.

Rail offices from around the country will be brought together into the new Milton Keynes site, housing around 3,000 staff. Whereas Network Rails’ head office will remain in London.

Manuel Cortes, the TSSA general secretary said: “This is an unfair and arbitrary decision which we believe to be unlawful. They are telling their staff they cannot follow their jobs in the worst recession in 70 years.

“With unemployment heading towards three million, where else are they going to find work in these hard times?”

Mr Cortes has warned Network Rail of legal action in order to defend its members right to move to Milton Keynes. “We are hoping that Network Rail will start to see sense on this issue”.

A spokesman for Network Rail said: “We are pulling together dozens of offices from around the country into one national centre at Milton Keynes that will deliver a better, more efficient way or working and save the taxpayers tens of millions of pounds a year.

“Around 150 people are affected by the travel limits, but we hope they will choose to stay with the company and be a part of our plans to deliver a bigger, better railway in the years ahead”.

Article by Charlotte Greenhalgh