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Rail clients in frantic talks to stave off spending cuts

Transport ministers have told Network Rail and Transport for London (TfL) that they will find out how much will be cut from their budgets within weeks.

The coalition government has said the results of its Comprehensive Spending Review will be made public on 20 October.

But urgent talks are already being held between central government and the two transport bodies. Speaking at NCE’s “London Rail” conference on Tuesday, TfL commissioner Peter Hendy said talks were imminent and that he expected to have a clear idea about the cuts within two weeks.

“We advised Boris [Johnson] that the £108M [cuts already requested by government] is chicken feed compared with what will come in the spending review,” said Hendy. Hendy said the Department for Transport was talking about cuts of 20%-30%.

Network Rail also confirmed that it was in the midst of talks that would clarify the real threat to rail investment by the end of the month.

“There will be trade-offs. Make no mistake, there will be losers. And rail could be one of them.”

Robbie Burns

Both clients stressed that while the government looked at where to wield its axe, the two bodies could still make a strong case for maintaining infrastructure investment.

Network Rail major programme director for Crossrail Robbie Burns urged people to make the case for rail investment.

“How many people in our country will write urging the government to protect the railway when their local hospital might close? Do people want new trains or more police? Is Crossrail or Trident more important? There will be trade-offs. Make no mistake, there will be losers. And rail could be one of them,” he said.

“Who is making the case for rail? I am not hearing anyone doing it. We need to make the unemotional, fact-based case for rail. This month is crucial,” said Burns.

Burns said the temptation would be for clients such as Network Rail and Transport for London to fight for funds, but that this must not happen. “If we compete we could simply end up losing the investment. This must be resisted.”

Hendy agreed that there was no competition for cash in London, but questioned the value of spend elsewhere in the UK.

”We have no intention of stealing national [transport] money for London. We’re as concerned as Network Rail that projects like Thameslink are fully completed. But there is a question to be answered about the effectiveness of spending money on capacity increases outside London when passenger numbers are so much lower as a percentage of overall journeys,” he said.

Hendy said that London’s projects like Crossrail and the Tube had a higher value attached to them. “I don’t think there’s much left in our programme that’s optional. Its not as if there is £0.5bn of discretionary spend in there - Boris [Johnson] has already thrown them off the ship. Station modernisations have been scrapped, and we’ve stopped a lot of step-free access work. What’s left is what the city needs. London is the engine of the UK economy. The government needs to make sure infrastructure development continues.”

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