April 13, 2024

£45bn rail improvement plan puts climate change firmly in its sights

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

£45bn rail improvement plan puts climate change firmly in its sights

Region and route:


Network Rail today announced the start of its £45.4 billion* five-year rail improvement plan, aiming to deliver a simpler, better and greener railway that delivers the best possible level of performance of the train and that it is more prepared than ever to deal with the extremes of climate change.

Andrew Haines, chief executive, said: “Delivering a better railway for passengers and freight users is at the heart of our new five-year investment plan. Tackling climate change, safely improving train performance, adapting and responding to changes in transport habits while managing aging infrastructure requires the entire industry to come together to benefit all rail users.

“While there are challenges and opportunities ahead, our mission is constant – we are here to connect people and goods where they need to be. The railway is part of our everyday life and has been part of our everyday life for generations. It provides essential services to society, sustaining economic growth and our plans will support this over the next five years – a period which will mark the railway’s bicentenary.”

Railways Minister Huw Merriman said: “Our railways are at the heart of many people’s daily lives and take us where we need to be, whether that’s to family and friends, work, education or holiday destinations.

“That’s why the network must be future-proof, with the resilience to deal with extreme weather conditions while at the same time delivering the reliability and level of service our passengers deserve. I am confident that the plan set out by Network Rail today will help keep our railways on track for years to come.”

Over the five years to 2029, Network Rail will invest around £2.8 billion in activities** and technology that will help it better deal with extreme weather and climate change, which will help deliver a more reliable railway and with better performance. Examples include:

  • Increased investment in maintaining thousands of kilometers of drains, cuts and embankments to make them more weather resistant
  • Recruiting almost 400 extra drainage engineers who will increase the care and maintenance of our drainage assets so we can better cope with the increase and intensity of rainfall
  • Hundreds of key operational staff will take part in Network Rail’s new ‘weather academy’ to help make them ‘amateur meteorologists’, better able to interpret forecasts and make better operational decisions such as when and where to slow down trains in stormy conditions
  • More than 600,000 meters of drains will be built or rebuilt, redesigned or undergo greater maintenance to allow our railway to handle much heavier rainfall and reduce flooding
  • Targeting more than 20,000 cuts or fills for attention, with more than 300 miles being strengthened through renovation and refurbishment and more than 900 miles undergoing planned maintenance
  • Installing significantly “smarter” motion sensors in cuts and embankments, providing early warning of any changes, allowing engineers to react, hopefully, before a full-blown slide
  • Installing CCTV in high-risk flood locations to enable better and faster response
  • Introduce new technologies that will help us keep services running safely in difficult conditions, such as
    • o GUSTO – which uses topography to better predict wind speeds, distinguishing valleys, trees and buildings, allowing trains to run at higher speeds during storms
    • o World-leading real-time and accurate precipitation forecast detailing weather conditions every 500m which will be linked to asset condition data for even better rail service management

Andrew continued: “Climate change is the biggest challenge facing our railway. Last year’s extreme weather conditions, which saw an unprecedented 14 named storms, have taken their toll on our railway – with experts predicting more of the same is to come. We are responding to this challenge with a huge investment to make our railway more resilient and perform better for rail users during these events.

“We can never make our railroad completely ‘weatherproof,’ but we can be better prepared and mitigate the worst that Mother Nature throws at us, now and in the future, to keep passengers and services safe and moving.”

Network Rail is funded in blocks of five years, called control periods, with the current one, CP7, running from 1 April 2024 to 31 March 2029. The funding and activity to be delivered are agreed in a long and complex three-year process, working closely with the Office of Rail and Road, the Department of Transport and Transport for Scotland.

Over the course of CP7 Network Rail will spend:

  • £19.3 billion in renovations (replacing old assets with new ones, as well as investing in other capital expenditure to create a railway fit for the future, e.g. digital signage)
  • £12.6 billion on maintenance (daily maintenance of current assets) with regions spending 6% more on maintenance activities compared to CP6
  • £5.3 billion in support functions (things like security and standards, timetables, IT, HR)
  • £4.4 billion in operations (things like signalling, stations, network controls)
  • £1.8 billion ‘Risk Fund’ (a fund to be used as and when dealing with significant unforeseen events)

Through CP7 Network Rail, revenues from government grants (England, Wales and Scotland) – £29.8 billion – rail operator track access fees – £13.8 billion – and commercial revenue ( retail, property, freight) – £1.7 billion.

In addition to targeting climate resilience, improving the wider day-to-day performance of rail transport for passengers and freight users is a critical area for focus and investment across our industry.

Commenting on train performance, Andrew said: “Train performance has suffered and the industry must come together and make this, and combating climate change, our main focus.

“Our role is to provide a safe railway that people can trust, whatever the weather, with trains that arrive at their destination on time and where passengers can trust that they are in good hands. This is what we must deliver every day and what we must and will be held accountable for.”

Network Rail’s focus on improving train performance will include:

  • Reduce the impact of external factors, including climate impact, deaths, break-ins and vandalism – one of the biggest causes of delays – by leveraging new technologies
  • Reducing infrastructure failures with over 5,000 km of track earmarked for replacement or heavy maintenance, as well as over 3,000 point sets (tracks that move allowing trains to switch tracks) and heavy investment in new signaling
  • Develop workforce capacity with investment in training and new technologies to improve decision-making and cross-sectoral working
  • Improve schedules to eliminate bottlenecks, conflicts and unrealistic schedules within and between stations
  • Faster incident recovery so fewer trains and customers are delayed when things happen

Andrew concluded: “Over the next five years we intend to rejoin the tracks and train with a new structure at the heart of our railway with a guiding mind, at a distance from the Government. This would create a simpler railway to better respond to the needs of rail users, with its constituent parts united by common goals and incentives, providing benefits to passengers and freight users.”

Notes for editors

  • * £45.4 billion is in spot prices (£40.6 in England and Wales, funded by the Department for Transport, and £4.8 billion in Scotland, funded by Transport Scotland) – with this funding covering the five-year period from April 1, 2024 to March 31, 2029.
  • In real terms (i.e. 2023/24 prices), the CP7 plan for England, Wales and Scotland amounts to £42.8 billion compared to £43 billion in CP6.
  • Previous CP7 publications were presented in real prices (2023/24), setting out our global financing needs at today’s prices. Now that we have finalized our plans for CP7, we are presenting our plan in cash prices (i.e. the money we expect to pay during the control period)
  • **climate resilience activities include basic renovations and maintenance that will provide primary climate resilience benefits
  • To enable a like-for-like maintenance comparison, the 6% increase in spending for regions between CP6 and CP7 is based on spending before any expected efficiency savings were applied, at 2023/24 prices.
  • The CP7 delivery plan defines how money will be spent on operations, maintenance and renovations. Improvements are financed separately on a case-by-case basis by central government and are therefore not included in this plan.

About Rail Network

We own, operate and develop Britain’s rail infrastructure; there are 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. We operate 20 of the UK’s largest stations, while all the others, more than 2,500, are operated by the country’s train operating companies.

Normally, almost five million journeys are made in the UK and more than 600 freight trains run on the network. People depend on Britain’s railways for their daily journeys, to visit friends and loved ones and to get them home safely every day. Our role is to provide a safe and reliable railway, so we carefully manage and deliver thousands of projects every year that form part of the multi-billion pound Railway Upgrade Plan, to grow and expand the country’s rail network to respond to the tremendous growth and demand that the railway has experienced – a doubling of passenger journeys in the last 20 years.

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