Hammond orders review of new trains plans

Philip Hammond: NAO report may have reinforced his doubts

THE transport secretary has ordered a comprehensive review of rolling stock orders, casting fresh doubt on plans for Thameslink and even Crossrail.

At the same time, the National Audit Office has published a report which is critical of the soaring cost of new trains.

Philip Hammond is already making cuts of £683 million in the Department for Transport budget in the current year, as part of general departmental economies ordered by the Chancellor which are intended to save a total of £6.2 billion.

But the DfT share of these economies is not nearly enough to account for rolling stock orders, which include the vehicles outstanding under the High Level Output Specification (or HLOS) as well as the fleets for Thameslink and later Crossrail. The total cost of these orders would have been at least £4 billion, with new rail vehicles now typically costing at least £1.5 million each.

The ambitious proposals for a next-generation intercity fleet had already been put on hold by the previous Labour government, and the chances of these plans being revived are now looking very slim.

Mr Hammond said Labour's plan for more trains would now be 'rigorously reassessed', to see if they still offered value for money for taxpayers.

"Since that announcement was made in 2007 the growth in passenger numbers has not materialised and costs have soared, leaving Labour's plans in tatters," he explained.

The transport secretary's doubts appear to have been reinforced by today's report from the National Audit Office, 'Increasing passenger rail capacity', which says that the predicted growth in passenger numbers has not materialised because of the economic downturn.

Mr Hammond added that ""significantly fewer new trains will be delivered for the money committed than were promised to passengers".

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