Multi-billion investment to beat rail congestion

The government has announced a multi-billion pound investment in the railways, designed to ease passenger overcrowding and encourage commuters to switch to public transport.

Transport secretary Ruth Kelly unveiled the new transport white paper today, committing the government to three major projects designed to reduce bottlenecks on urban routes.

Ms Kelly said the white paper marked the most ambitious plan for developing the railways in more than half a century.

She said: “Passengers want not only more capacity and reliability on their trains but also more modern stations, simple and efficient ticketing, better quality of service and value for money. They’re right to be so demanding and this strategy can deliver what they want.”

In the five-year spending plan, she approved a £5.5 billion upgrade for the north-south London Thameslink route, as well as improvements to Birmingham New Street and Reading stations.

More than 150 stations will be refurbished in total, enabled by an investment of £150 million.

However, in a blow to the mayor of London’s plans, she did not commit the government to the ambitious east-west rail link, Crossrail. Ministers claim this will be covered in separate legislation.

To boost capacity on the network, the government earlier this year announced an order for additional carriages. Ms Kelly today increased this by a further 300, with 1,300 extra carriages by 2014.

Funds will also be available for longer platforms but ministers ruled out the option of double-decker trains on the grounds of cost.

The Conservatives claimed much of the white paper had already been announced and accused Ms Kelly of rehashing past announcements.

Shadow secretary of state for Wales Cheryl Gillian welcomed any extra investment but said “we have heard it all before from this government”.

She said: “Why on earth should we believe Labour this time when after 10 years in power trains are more overcrowded, tickets are more expensive, and passengers endure worse conditions than ever before?”

The mayor of London Ken Livingstone warmly welcomed the white paper, claiming longer trains and larger stations would greatly benefit many Londoners.

Mr Livingstone said: “Some two-thirds of all UK rail journeys start or finish in London, and Londoners account for 50 per cent of all UK rail journeys.

“This announcement recognises the importance of London to the national economy, and the vital role of rail services in the capital’s continued success.”

The mayor was confident Crossrail would still get the go-ahead and said an expanded Thameslink service would complement the high speed east-west link.