In the wake of the election of a majority Conservative government, we take a look at the policies set out in their manifesto (the Manifesto) to consider what might be ahead for the rail industry. Set out below is a brief summary table of the key Conservative rail policies followed by some more detailed commentary.
|HS2||Consider findings of the Oakervee Review|
|Other infrastructure investment||Support Northern Powerhouse Rail
Invest in Midlands Rail Hub
Investment in lines to South West and East Anglia
City regions to be given money to upgrade services
Restore many Beeching lines
|Freight||No specific reference to freight|
|Environmental issues||More electrification|
|Fares and ticketing||Extend contactless pay-as-you go in South East
City regions to implement smart ticketing
|Other||Minimum services required during strikes
Regional funding for upgrades and devolution to metro mayors
Franchising: Perhaps surprisingly, the commitment in the Manifesto to bring an end to franchising and "create a simpler, more effective rail system" does not make any reference to the Williams Rail Review (the Review). The Review, which was initiated by the last Government will provide further detail of the system that will replace franchising. The Review will be published as a White Paper, meaning that it becomes official Government policy on publication. This is an unusual approach to a rail review, without direct precedent in an industry where there have been a significant number of reviews over recent years. The independent chair of the Review, Keith Williams made clear in his appearance before the Transport Select Committee at the end of October that he viewed this essential to ensuring that the conclusions of the Review are implemented.
HS2: In contrast to the clear statements of support for HS2 included in the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos, the Conservative party position on HS2 is not clear cut. Again, the position will depend on the results of a review initiated by the previous Government – the Oakervee Review. The Manifesto states that the Conservatives will consider the results of the Oakervee Review and then "work with leaders of the Midlands and the North to decide the optimal outcome". Given what has recently been leaked about the generally positive conclusions of the Oakervee Review and the public criticisms of those leaked conclusions by the Deputy Chair of the Oakervee Review, the implications of this policy are not yet fully clear. The imperative must be that the position regarding the largest rail infrastructure project in the country is resolved as soon as possible to provide certainty for the industry and its supply chain.
Infrastructure investment: The Manifesto had perhaps the longest list of railway infrastructure improvements of all of the manifestos of the major parties. Many of the major proposed schemes currently being touted in the industry are specifically referred to (see the table above), with notable exceptions perhaps being Crossrail 2, East-West Railway and any Heathrow access scheme. Whether all of these schemes will be able to rely for funding on the pot of £100 billion reserved for infrastructure improvements generally remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see the speed with which the favoured schemes are implemented and whether any new approaches to funding/financing them are forthcoming.
Environmental Issues: The link between environmental issues and the railways is not expressly made in the Manifesto, although there are many and varied policies on the environment which are likely to have an impact on the railways. There is a commitment to "more electrification" (in the context of a section devoted to devolution to city regions and without further detail) which is likely to contribute to industry moves to cut emissions and meet climate change targets.
Freight: The Manifesto is silent on rail freight. It is potentially concerning for the sector that the focus appears to be on passenger rail, although the rail freight industry may benefit from policies such as increased electrification, infrastructure investment and expansion of the network.
Fares and ticketing: Unlike the manifestos of the other major parties, the Manifesto did not deal directly with the question of rail fares, perhaps seeing this as part of the reform of franchising. By all accounts the Review will include recommendations regarding a reform of fares. The Manifesto does however provide support for the roll-out of smart ticketing.
Other: Devolution to cities and regions is a key theme running through many of the Manifesto commitments. Another contrast with the manifestos of the other major parties is the lack of reference in the Manifesto to improving accessibility to the rail network for disabled passengers. Finally, alone amongst the manifestos of the major parties, the Conservatives addressed the issue of strikes, stating "we will require that a minimum service operates during transport strikes".
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