The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) is expected to maintain its tough stance against Network Rail when it releases its final determinations for the track operators spend for 2009-2014 tomorrow, and demand that the rail operator makes more efficient use of its resources.
The regulator and track operator have been at loggerheads since December last year, when the ORR stated that Network Rail could achieve the government’s shopping list for the railways – the High Level Output Specification (HLOS) – by spending £26.5bn in the five years from 2009-2014.
Liberal Democrat shadow transport secretary Norman Baker said: "Rail passengers have been getting a raw deal for years. While it is right to demand tough targets to reduce delays, the Government should be investing in a rail network that is fit for the 21st century.
"The reality is that the Government has been cutting rail spending year after year while continuing to throw money at road widening. This misguided policy is condemning travellers to years of overcrowding and delays.
"Rather than criticising Network Rail for bringing forward sensible schemes, the ORR should be attacking the Government for having such low aspirations.
"Ministers completely failed to plan ahead for the big increases in passenger numbers they themselves predict.”
Network Rail initially projected spending some £3bn more than the government had set aside for it, but this estimate has since narrowed to an outstanding difference of around £1bn.
The regulator has consistently talked tough with Network Rail, and insisted the track operator can achieve the government's wishlist of outputs with the money the government has made available.
The ORR said efficiencies of up to 21% could be achieved to drive costs down. Network Rail said a target of 13% was more realistic.
If Network Rail fails to agree with the ORR's determinations, it can lodge an appeal with the Competition Commission.
Network Rail has listed 19 schemes at risk if it does not receive the money it needs:
West Croydon track
Didcot – Oxford area capacity upgrade
Bolton corridor package
Buxton line capacity and line speed improvements
Doncaster Loversall Carr junction revised operational layout
Hertford Loop (including Gordon Hill loops
Reading station area- platform 1-8 renewals
East Midlands resignalling - Nottingham station area
Round Oak to Walsall reopening
West Croydon station development
West Anglia inner 9 car trains
Liverpool Central passenger capacity
Liverpool James Street
Cogan junction upgrade
Ninian Park to Radyr (City Line) linespeed improvements
Birmingham New Street new bay platform
Fenchurch Street and Chafford Hundred passenger circulation