Train operators have demanded the government “get a move on” with ordering new trains after a strategy document said trains’ passenger capacity would grow by just 10 per cent by 2014.
The Department for Transport’s rolling stock plan, published on Wednesday, follows a commitment last year by Douglas Alexander, then transport secretary, to introduce 1,300 extra carriages across England’s railways to alleviate overcrowding.
The plan builds on a white paper published last summer aimed at increasing capacity on the railways, where passenger numbers are growing at about 7 per cent every year.
However, the details of the plan make clear that some train operating companies already under strain from growing passenger numbers can expect hardly any new vehicles by 2014, the main period covered by the plan. East Midlands Trains, which runs Midland main line services from London St Pancras to the Midlands and local services around Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, is allocated only three new vehicles – one train – over the period, according to the plan.
Operators believe progress on ordering trains and tackling overcrowding has been too slow.
George Muir, director-general of the Association of Train Operating Companies, the operators’ industry body, said it was reassuring to see the plan aimed to address congested areas of the network. They included the London area and fast-growing cities.
Train operators had made strong arguments about the areas of the country where extra trains could make a real difference, he said.
However, he added: “The next step is for the industry – train operators and Network Rail – to work out the details within this DfT framework. It is time to get a move on with ordering the trains. Railway patronage continues to grow and we need to keep pace with this.”
Others in the industry were more scathing. Rupert Brennan Brown, a well-connected industry observer, said railway managers were underwhelmed by the plans. “It’s meagre, half-hearted and doesn’t address the capacity issues of today, let alone 2014,” he said.
At the heart of the strategy is a plan to order up to 1,300 carriages by 2015 for the upgraded Thameslink route across London, and another 600 carriages by 2017 for the cross-London Crossrail route. The new vehicles on those routes will displace large numbers of older trains, releasing them for use elsewhere.
The strategy suggests some diesel-operated routes could be electrified so that these trains could be used on them. The total increase in carriages will be less than the new carriages ordered for those routes because, by the time they are introduced, many of the displaced trains will be so old they will need scrapping.
Ruth Kelly, transport secretary, said publication of the plan was a big step towards delivering on the government’s commitment to tackle overcrowding created by the past 10 years’ 40 per cent growth in rail passenger numbers.