Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: rail network

Updated 8 May 2015

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/expanding-and-improving-the-rail-network Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


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. These include 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 and 2015 we reduced regulated fare rises to RPI+0% as well as removing the fares flex of 2% for 2015 only.

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

Developing and improving rail services

To continue to develop and improve rail services we are:

Upgrading rail tracks and stations: rail investment strategy

The £16 billion rail investment strategy (or ‘High level output specification’) provides railway upgrades across England and Wales. The programme includes plans to:

  • spend £38 billion on improving and running the rail network in Great Britain
  • introduce brand new intercity trains on the East Coast and Great Western routes
  • electrify and upgrade so that nearly three quarters of passenger traffic is on electric trains
  • increase capacity with an extra 140,000 commuting journeys each day into our key cities
  • complete Crossrail and Thameslink, with new trains and a strong network of new routes
  • complete the Northern Hub – a large programme of electrification and capacity works right across the north

Electrifying important railway routes

To cut down on CO₂ emissions, reduce costs and speed up journeys the government is electrifying important railway routes to phase out 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 Reading and Heathrow to Shenfield and Abbey Wood running through tunnels under central London.

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

  • continuing construction of Crossrail ticket halls and new stations in central London
  • tunnelling beneath London

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

  • 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 ageing Intercity 125 High Speed Trains with faster, higher capacity, more comfortable and more environmentally friendly services. This will support 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’s new factory at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham opens in 2015 and 110 IEP trains will be built on the site, creating 730 skilled jobs locally

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.

In March 2013 the Secretary of State for Transport launched the government’s rail franchising programme. This includes a detailed timetable for all rail franchise competitions over the next 8 years. It provides long-term certainty to the market and will support major investments in the network. When the schedule was published we committed to refresh it annually.

The programme emphasises an open approach to engaging with stakeholders and industry. As part of this new programme the department will seek innovative bids that provide value-for-money for taxpayers and put passengers at the heart of our railways.

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 rail works well operationally, with good safety and punctuality and growth in demand from passengers and freight, but costs too much to run.

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

Our High level output specification and accompanying statement of funds available sets out plans for the railways for the 5 year period 2014 to 2019. It forms part of the Office of Rail and Road’s (ORR) 5 yearly assessments of Network Rail (who manage the rail infrastructure) and:

  • what Network Rail must achieve over the next 5 years
  • the money Network Rail needs
  • the incentives required to encourage a good service

To provide the best evidence base for our policy we used analysis, appraisal, evaluation, modelling and research.

Who we’ve consulted

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

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

To give passengers a better experience and reduce rail industry costs, we ran a consultation to gather evidence for the Rail fares and ticketing review.

A 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 set 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, Transport 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.

Appendix 1: developing an evidence based rail policy

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

To ensure that transport systems are effective, government decisions and policies are informed by economic and statistical analysis, appraisal, evaluation, modelling, and research.

To provide the best evidence base for planning transport policies and schemes, mathematical models are used to analyse complex transport patterns.

Guidance on transport modelling and appraisal

To take into account developments in modelling practice the department continually undertakes research to improve guidance.

Guidance on modelling and forecasting for major transport schemes requiring government funding is available through WebTAG.

Transport appraisal, evaluation and tools

DfT has published a range of transport appraisal and evaluation resources including:

Research reports

A range of transport research resources have been published by the department including:


We publish various rail statistics including:

Further information on the role of economic analysts

The Civil Service website features further information about the role of economic analysts in DfT.

Appendix 2: developing Crossrail

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Crossrail is creating new transport infrastructure to support London’s economic growth. It will:

  • increase London’s rail transport capacity by 10%
  • make journey times shorter
  • bring an extra 1.5 million people within 45 minutes of London’s business centres – leading to employment growth of up to 30,000 jobs by 2026 in central London

We expect Crossrail to cost no more than £14.8 billion.

The project reached the major milestone of 50% of construction completed in January 2014. On 6 February 2014 we then announced our intention to award the contract to deliver rolling stock and a new depot to Bombardier.

Crossrail is Europe’s largest infrastructure construction project. Work started in May 2009 and there are currently about 10,000 people working at over 40 sites. Crossrail will provide significant employment and training opportunities across and beyond the capital:

  • up to 14,000 people will be employed on the project at the peak of construction
  • over 5,000 people have been trained at the purpose built Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy in East London

A written ministerial statement provides an annual update on the Crossrail project every year.

Further information about the benefits of Crossrail can be found in the following business case summary reports:

Crossrail is being constructed by Crossrail Ltd, which is a special purpose delivery body set up to deliver the Crossrail scheme, as defined in the Crossrail Act 2008. It’s jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and Transport for London (TfL) and is a wholly owned subsidiary of TfL.

Appendix 3: the Intercity Express Programme

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The Intercity Express Programme (IEP) will provide the infrastructure, rolling stock and franchise changes needed to support growth and improvements on some of Britain’s busiest intercity rail routes.

New trains procurement

These videos and drawings show what the new IEP trains and their carriage interiors will look like and some of the work done to build the vehicle manufacturing site in Newton Aycliffe:

Introduction of new trains and carriages

The first IEP units to be built will be introduced on the Great Western Main Line from 2017 and on the East Coast Main Line from 2018.

The new IEP trains will bring faster services and additional capacity to major UK cities. On Great Western Main Line it will improve services between London, Reading, Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea, Along the East Coast Main Line, services it will improve services between London, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh. This will mean 40% more seats into London Paddington and 28% more seats into Kings Cross during the morning peak.

As well as building a new assembly facility in the UK, Hitachi is constructing maintenance depots in Bristol, Swansea, west London and Doncaster. It’s also upgrading existing depots throughout Great Britain to maintain the fleet.


Additional benefits of IEP include:

  • more comfortable journeys with increased leg room, better wi-fi provision, more luggage and bike storage space
  • more accessible rail services because IEP trains have improved accessibility for disabled passengers, who have had significant input into the train design
  • greener journeys because electric IEP trains will emit over 40% less CO2 per passenger km than the HST trains they replace, making them more environmentally friendly

Appendix 4: community rail

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Community rail involves local people and organisations working in partnership to improve their local railways. Community rail initiatives such as station enhancements and innovative promotional schemes can help get better value for money from the rail network. These initiatives range from people helping to maintain station gardens, the refurbishment of small stations with artwork from local schools and can include major schemes.

We work along others in the industry to develop that values of the Community rail development strategy, last revised in 2007.

Community railways aim to

  • increase revenue
  • reduce costs
  • increase community involvement
  • support social and economic development

We work closely with the Association of Community Rail Partnerships (ACORP). ACORP are the umbrella organisation for community rail partnerships, rail user groups and volunteers who work with community rail.

Community rail lines and services are part of the commercial rail network accounting for around 40 million journeys per year. Train companies operate the services and Network Rail own and maintain the infrastructure, the track, signals and stations.

Although some community railways provide a tourism service, they are largely separate from heritage and private railways which function solely as tourist attractions.

Although often rural, community rail lines may also run through inner city or suburban areas. The Severn Beach Line in Bristol is one of the few urban community railways in England running from Bristol to Severn Beach.

Around 3200 rail volunteers work 250,000 hours per year helping to improve stations and reduce vandalism, providing a financial value of £3.4 million per annum. Research has shown that community rail partnerships pay for themselves, adding economic, social and environmental value. Passenger use on community rail lines has grown by an additional 2.8% each year.

Community rail routes

We have designated 39 lines or services as community railways to help secure their long term viability.

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The Thameslink programme will transform north-south travel through London on the Thameslink route. This will increase capacity on one of Europe’s busiest stretches of railway, connecting people with jobs and improving accessibility across London and south east England.

Passenger benefits

Thameslink will provide major benefits for passengers by:

  • improving journeys and connections by providing better travel options to more destinations including a new rail hub at Farringdon which will offer links to Crossrail services from December 2018
  • introducing new direct services (eg between Brighton and Cambridge via Gatwick and between Peterborough to Gatwick and Horsham)
  • providing new, more spacious trains
  • providing more reliable, more frequent services with trains every 2 to 3 minutes in central London
  • reducing crowding
  • offering better stations at locations including London Bridge, Farringdon and Blackfriars

The upgrade will mean that 24 Thameslink trains per hour will run between St Pancras International and Blackfriars at peak times. Sixteen of these trains are expected to run to or from London Bridge. That‘s about 80% more seats and more than 3 times the current capacity between St Pancras International and Blackfriars.

Economic benefits

The total investment in the Thameslink scheme is around £6.5 billion.

At the peak of construction it is estimated that around 3,000 people will be directly employed on the Thameslink Programme infrastructure works. As many again will be employed in related jobs in the wider community.

The rolling stock project will also create up to 2,000 jobs in component manufacturing, assembly, construction of 2 new depots, and subsequent maintenance.


Phase 1 of the project is complete with upgraded stations at Blackfriars and Farringdon and longer platforms at other stations. This means that some trains are now 50% longer - 12 car trains instead of 8.

The construction of a new viaduct at Borough Market has also been completed, a major part of the overall scheme.

Phase 2 of the project is currently under way. Work to completely rebuild London Bridge mainline station started in 2013. The new station will include more through-platforms and step-free access to all platforms from a single, large new concourse.

Works to track and signalling will separate Cannon Street, Thameslink and Charing Cross services. The works include a new grade separated junction near Bermondsey which will allow more trains to operate. The new London Bridge station is due to be complete in 2018 with the 24 trains per hour service scheduled to operate from late 2018.

Other works include new train stabling facilities at locations such as Horsham, Peterborough and Cricklewood which are under construction.

A new fleet of 115 high capacity trains has been procured and is currently being built. New depots to house and service these trains are being built at Hornsey (north London) and Three Bridges in West Sussex. The first new trains are due to enter passenger service between Bedford and Brighton in 2016.