Long-planned improvements to the London to Brighton mainline railway outside Croydon, including rebuilding East Croydon Station and unblocking a bottleneck near Selhurst, could be scrapped as part of government post-covid cut-backs.
Network Rail rates the lines around Croydon as the busiest and most congested part of Britain’s rail network, with 30 per cent more passengers and trains passing through it each day than Euston and King’s Cross stations combined.
The snappily titled Croydon Area Remodelling Scheme – or CARS – detailed Network Rail’s multi-million-pound plans to improve the Brighton mainline and transform East Croydon Station, and have been in the public domain for more than three years.
The “Selhurst Triangle” is a Gordian knot of a problem which Network Rail wanted to solve with a series of fly-overs and fly-unders. “Train punctuality on the Brighton mainline is the lowest of any major route as the bottleneck magnifies the impact of even the most minor incident or delay,” Network Rail said in 2018 when they revealed the first version of their plans.
Under the proposals, East Croydon was to get an enlarged concourse and two extra platforms and Norwood Junction was also slated for a significant upgrade.
The plans had cross-party political support, in Croydon and at Westminster.
But a report in New Civil Engineer at the weekend quotes the head of Network Rail stating that CARS will be dropped as part of the Department for Transport cuts to infrastructure spending, as the Tory government redirects spending projects to the north of England.
Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines said that he is expecting an updated Rail Enhancements Pipeline to be unveiled in the coming days.
Haines told a press briefing last week that some schemes will inevitably be delayed after being reassessed for a post-covid world. He specified that work on the Brighton mainline would be mothballed.
“As part of the process we have reassessed the schemes alongside the DfT,” Haines said. “Savings will be made from a number of areas, such as changing site access requirements and making the most of technology enhancements.
“Some schemes will inevitably be changed or delayed due to the impact covid has had on them.
“Western access to Heathrow for example will not go ahead as early as previously thought as that relies on part-funding from the airport which is clearly not forthcoming now because of the impact covid has had on its finances.
“Likewise work on schemes such as the Brighton mainline will be pushed back as the benefits from it won’t be felt for a long period of time.”
The budget for the rail investment schemes was set at £10.4billion for the five-year period between 2019-2024. When first unveiled in 2019, the pipeline included 58 projects.
£1billion was shaved off of the investment pot in December as a result of cost-cutting measures due to covid-19.
Rail groups, including the Railway Industry Association and Rail Delivery Group, have already warned about the dangers of delaying or cancelling important infrastructure projects.
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