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News analysis

He is certainly keen. His website was

updated, with his biography amended, just an hour after he accepted the job. Mike Penning, former shadow health

minister, was equally quick to announce his appointment as parliamentary under secretary of state. The Department for Transport was a little slower to respond, its website running two days behind the personal sites of its ministers. Five days later the section on the new ministerial team still read: ‘The content on this website is currently being reviewed and updated.’ What can we expect from the new team? Arriving in the job out of the blue

enables Hammond to modify policies advocated by Villiers. The policy paper released at the end

of May, The Coalition: Our Programme for

Government, sets out a few plans for rail, but it is too soon for specifics. Crossrail and further electrification of the network are ‘supported’ and longer franchises will be granted, though there was no mention of how long ‘longer’ will be. The establishment of a high-speed network is mentioned. There is a commitment, too, to fair pricing for rail travel, which is, presumably, a nod to the Lib Dem manifesto commitment of reducing rail fares, but ‘reduced’ fares and ‘fair’ fares are not necessarily the same thing. Network Rail will be made more

accountable to its customers and the rail regulator will be strengthened, the policy document says. So the corporate governance of Network Rail is a likely early target. Network Rail was created by Labour, structured as a means of keeping its £20bn debt away from the public accounts. The new ministers have no political allegiance to it. In his first full day in the job Hammond

told journalists that he would ‘end the war on motorists’, though when it came to firm promises, there was nothing we had not read in the manifesto. Heathrow’s third runway is out and there will be consultation on a ‘fuel duty stabiliser’ to ease the pain of high petrol prices. The government plans to make £6bn

of savings in the current financial year. Hammond said transport would ‘bear its share of the in-year cuts’. Transport is not one of the protected spending departments, so most observers expect severe pruning of its activities. A Budget is promised by 25 June with a comprehensive spending review in the autumn. Let’s take Reading as a case study. The

second busiest station outside London could

be profoundly affected by the direction Hammond chooses. The £450m upgrading of the station seems certain to go ahead. The money is in place and work is starting this year. A few days after the election Network Rail published computer images of what the station would look like. But other plans seem less certain. Electrification of the Great Western would require a fleet of new trains, some of which would be maintained at a new Reading depot. The existing depot on Cow Lane is due to be relocated. The land is needed for a flyover at the junction where the Great Western is crossed by the line from the south coast to the Midlands, heavily used by freight from Southampton docks as well as by CrossCountry services. With First Great Western’s blessing,

I spoke to a group of railway workers in Reading at the start of the election campaign, and again at the end. All their careers could be significantly affected by the outcome. Pete Dowling, a maintenance technician in the depot, saw nothing during the campaign to persuade him that one party offered more than another. In fact, he said, railways barely got a mention. ‘The main talk seems to be about the huge budget deficit, and clearly transport is going to take a big hit from that. And bearing in mind there are far more car drivers than train users I can’t see a lot of money coming to the train companies.’ His colleague Ross Lillywhite agreed. ‘I

think Reading does play an important part in the rail industry. But no mention of it at all. I don’t believe the money’s going to come.’ He turned his head to the Class 165 being refurbished behind him. ‘And I don’t think the money’s going to be available to change these.’ Marlon Henry, a revenue protection

inspector on First Great Western, saw nothing in the campaigning to encourage him. He didn’t bother to bother to vote, seeing little point. ‘I didn’t see anything to persuade me to vote for any of the parties,’ he said. ‘All I’ve seen is three clowns in a circus.’ And what of Crossrail being extended

to Reading? There is ‘passive provision’ for it in the plans for the station redevelopment. Hammond has already said the government backs the £16bn scheme – he met London mayor Boris Johnson during his first day in office. He told the major that it was vital to maximise value for money from it, adding that the project would be scrutinised closely. ‘As far as transport is concerned, we are going to have to sweat the assets we

‘His website was updated, with his biography amended, just an hour after he accepted the job’

have much better,’ he said. ‘We are going to have to look at new and innovative ways of funding capital expenditure.’ Will an early casualty be the currently

postponed Intercity Express Programme? As Rail Professional determined last month, lower-cost alternatives are available, including prolonging the life of the ageing high-speed trains even further. The Tory manifesto offered ‘support’

for electrification to South Wales, though there is no mention of other electrification projects. The party is also the first to pledge to build a high-speed line to Wales as part of a second stage of a high speed network. The Lib Dem manifesto offered

conflicting views. Norman Baker wanted a drastic reduction in the Highways Agency’s budget for road improvements, diverting funding into re-opening long-closed rail routes and cutting train fares by one per cent a year below the Retail Price Index. Baker envisaged a £3bn Rail Expansion Fund, from which councils and passenger transport executives could bid for money. As MP for Lewes, Baker has long

supported the campaign to re-open the disused link between Lewes and Uckfield. But with a former shadow chief secretary to the treasury now running the DfT, and the over-riding need to cut costs, expect those ideas to be pruned by an industrial-strength chainsaw. The budget for road building wasn’t huge to start with, and road spending is certain to be the first area to feel the pinch. As a footnote, Lord Adonis was, of

course, not up for election. But two of his three ministers lost their seats. Paul Clark and Chris Mole seem already forgotten. The last 22 years have seen 13 secretaries of state for transport and countless junior ministers. They have lasted in post for 20 months on average. Will the new team be any different?

l See also People page 36


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