Expanding and improving the rail network


Rail is vital to the UK’s economic prosperity. If rail services are inefficient and do not meet people’s needs for routing or frequency, business and jobs suffer. Rail links with airports and ports are business opportunities for travel, tourism and the transportation of goods.

Encouraging people to use trains rather than cars, and reducing carbon emissions from trains and stations themselves, can also contribute to the UK’s carbon reduction targets.



The government regulates the existence and the pricing of a number of rail fares, including commuter fares and the majority of long distance, off-peak fares (previously known as Saver Return tickets). We restrict the amount by which train operators can increase regulated fares each year, using a formula based on the retail price index (RPI), a commonly used measure of inflation.

We understand concerns about the costs of rail fares and the impact they have on family budgets. For 2014 we have reduced average regulated fare rises to RPI+0%.

We are aiming to reduce the costs of running rail services so that we can bring an end to above-inflation fare increases.

The Rail fares and ticketing review published in October 2013 set out the government’s vision for a modern and customer-focused fares and ticketing system. The review aimed to:

  • reduce the impact of fares increases on passengers
  • improve the flexibility of fares on offer
  • make sure passengers have a better experience of rail travel

To reduce the impact of fare increases on passengers we are trialling a number of schemes:

  • single leg pricing for off peak return fares, starting in 2015
  • flexible ticketing including discounted fares for travel at quieter times
  • flexible season tickets
  • a code of practice on ticketing information

We also plan to roll out smart ticketing across the network.

Developing and improving rail services

To continue to develop and improve rail services we are:

Upgrading rail tracks and stations: High Level Output Specification

The £9 billion High Level Output Specification programme provides railway upgrades across England and Wales. As part of this programme, we are:

  • upgrading stations and tracks to create enough capacity around cities for an additional 140,000 daily rail commutes at peak times
  • increasing train capacity with £240 million of improvements along the East Coast Main Line from the north-east down through Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire to London
  • completing the Northern Hub package of rail enhancements with an investment of £510 million in capacity upgrades across Manchester, Manchester Airport and on routes to Liverpool, York, Sheffield, Bradford and Preston
  • creating a new £500 million rail link between the Great Western Main Line and Heathrow allowing direct services to the airport for passengers from the West Country, the Thames Valley and Wales

Electrifying important railway routes

To cut down on CO2 emissions, reduce operating costs and speed up journeys, the government is electrifying important railway routes to phase out the use of diesel trains.

By 2020, we expect that around three-quarters of all passenger miles will be by electric train. The routes being electrified are:

  • Great Western Main Line
  • North West Triangle
  • North Transpennine, including Selby
  • the ‘Electric Spine’ from Southampton to South Yorkshire via the East Midlands

We plan to electrify more lines in the next decade and are working with the rail industry to agree where we should invest during that time.


Crossrail will be a new railway linking Maidenhead and Heathrow to Shenfield and Abbey Wood running through tunnels under central London.

The Department for Transport and Transport for London are jointly sponsoring Crossrail Ltd to manage the project. With services expected to begin in late 2018, Crossrail Ltd is:

The Thameslink programme will dramatically increase capacity on the cross London Thameslink route. It will provide major benefits for passengers:

  • new, longer trains
  • more frequent service
  • reduced crowding
  • upgraded stations
  • new destination choices
  • access to Crossrail

Phase 1 of the programme is complete with upgraded stations at Blackfriars and Farringdon and new trains on order. Phase 2 has started, rebuilding London Bridge mainline station and increasing capacity elsewhere. This is due to be completed in 2018.

Intercity Express Programme

The Intercity Express Programme (IEP) will replace Britain’s ageing fleet of Intercity 125 High Speed Trains with faster, higher capacity, more comfortable and more environmentally friendly services, supporting the growth of some of Britain’s busiest intercity rail routes.

  • in July 2012 we awarded the IEP contract to Agility Trains – a consortium made up of Hitachi and John Laing – to build almost 600 new trains
  • Hitachi will build a factory in County Durham - construction starts in 2013 - to build the new trains for the Great West and East Coast Main Lines, creating 730 skilled jobs with a further 200 jobs during construction

Major main line and station upgrades

We are upgrading major main lines and some major stations to enable longer, faster trains to operate more frequently. And we are providing alternative routes where we can to enable the growing freight traffic to stay clear of the fast intercity trains.

We are upgrading the following lines:

  • East Coast freight alternative
  • Great Western Main Line
  • Transpennine
  • Midland Main Line
  • East Coast Main Line

Even with this extra capacity, we will run out of space by the mid 2020s on the West Coast Main Line, so we are also proposing to build High Speed 2 to provide more capacity when we need it.

We are also investing in major improvements at Birmingham New Street and Leeds First in Yorkshire.

Rail passenger franchises

Passenger train services are largely provided through franchises let by the government.

The Secretary of State for Transport cancelled the West Coast Main Line franchise procurement after the discovery of significant technical flaws in the way the franchise process was conducted. As a result, all franchising competitions were paused from October 2012 while two independent reviews were conducted:

  • the Laidlaw Inquiry into the cancelled West Coast Main Line franchise competition
  • the Brown review of the Department for Transport’s wider rail franchising programme

In January 2013 the Essex Thameside and the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise competitions were relaunched. The documentation for these, and all future competitions, can be found at rail franchising.

Rail interoperability

Major rail projects in the UK must comply with technical standards. To make sure this happens, we are:

  • working with the rail industry to determine the best way to apply these standards

Community rail

We are encouraging local people and organisations to work together to develop the community rail programme. We are also providing core funding for the Association of Community Rail Partnerships


In May 2011, Sir Roy McNulty published an independent Rail Value for Money study. He found that while rail works well operationally, with good safety and punctuality, and has seen impressive growth in demand from passengers and freight, it costs too much to run.

In March 2012, we released the Reforming our Railways Command Paper. This sets out the government’s vision to improve services for customers – both passengers and freight users – and make the railways financially sustainable in the longer term, so they can continue to contribute to the country’s economic growth and environmental goals. The command paper set out plans to reduce costs by £3.5 billion per year by 2019.

The High Level Output Specification and the accompanying Statement of Funds Available sets out the government’s plans for the railways for the 5 year period 2014 to 2019. It forms part of the Office of Rail Regulation’s (ORR) 5 yearly assessments of what Network Rail (who manage the rail infrastructure) must achieve over the next 5 years, the money it needs to do so, and the incentives needed to encourage a good service.

To shape this policy, we used economic and statistical analysis, appraisal, evaluation, modelling and research.

Who we’ve consulted

The government ran consultations on several main line franchises. These consultations invited passengers, local councils and anyone with an interest in improved services to send in their views on what they want to see from the next franchise:

We also consulted on giving local authorities and PTEs more accountability and decision-making related to local rail services. This consultation looked at ways this could be done in parts of England:

To give passengers a better experience of rail, and reduce rail industry costs at the same, the government ran a consultation to gather evidence for the Rail Fares and Ticketing review.

The joint ORR and Department for Transport consultation collected views on the potential for an expanded role for ORR in respect of new passenger rail franchises in England and Wales. It sets out areas where the government believes there may be a case for ORR doing more for the protection of passenger interests.

Who we’re working with

We work closely with Transport for London, Transport for Greater Manchester, Passenger Transport Executives and the major cities to develop our rail strategy and make sure it meets regional needs.

We also work closely with local authorities, passenger groups, Passenger Focus and many rail industry organisations including Network Rail and passenger and freight service operators.

Bills and legislation

Transport and Works Act 1992

The Transport and Works Act Orders Unit in DfT issues decisions on applications under the Transport and Works Act 1992. This covers powers to construct and operate railways, tramways and other guided transport systems, and works which interfere with navigation rights.

Help us improve GOV.UK

Please don't include any personal or financial information, for example your National Insurance or credit card numbers.