UK government to cut £1bn from rail budget

Suban Abdulla
·2-min read
Pendolino passes as the sun set in the background
The cut put a question mark over planned projects and improvements to rail infrastructure across the UK. Photo: Getty

Britain’s government has cut £1bn ($1.3bn) from funding to upgrade the UK’s railway infrastructure.

The rail budget covers a programme of investments to improve passengers and freight services across the largely Victoria-era railway systems in the country.

It comes after chancellor Rishi Sunak promised record infrastructure investment as part of the government's "levelling up" agenda, during the spending review last month.

The five-year budget, which runs to 2024 has been cut from £10.4bn to £9.4bn, rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said. He said that the the operating budget of Network Rail, which is separate will not be affected by the cuts.

The cut put a question mark over planned projects and improvements to rail infrastructure across the UK, including increasing capacity at Leeds station, a long-term fix to overcrowding at London’s Clapham Junction station and the electrification of lines linking Wigan and Bolton in north-west England.

While the government is yet to specify what the immediate priorities for the money are, it is likely that the shortfall will leave some projects without funding.

READ MORE: Crossrail project faces being 'mothballed' without funding, transport chief warns

Britain has spent billions subsidising the rail network since the onset of COVID-19, so that trains were able to continue running during lockdown, even as commuters stayed at home.

The number of passengers using trains fell to as low as 5% in the spring at the height of the pandemic. It recovered to around 30% in late summer, but dipped again during the second England lockdown in November,

In March, the UK government brought the so-called "Northern Powerhouse" rail franchise under state control.

Meanwhile, the Welsh government announced plans to nationalise Transport for Wales' rail services. Ministers said in October that they would take over the franchise from KeolisAmey, with day-to-day services set to be run by a publicly-owned company.

In November, London’s transport chief warned the government that the £19bn Crossrail project faced being “mothballed” if ministers did not agree to urgent funding to keep the rail link going.

The 188km underground rail project, which is officially known as the Elizabeth line, has faced ongoing delays and is more than three years late. Once eventually open it will link the north and south parts of the city with areas in Berkshire, Hertfordshire and Surrey.

Crossrail said earlier this year it could not commit to an opening date, after the original launch date of December 2018 was missed. Costs have already crept up from £15.9bn to around £20bn, with the government forced to cough up the extra cash.

Its central section is now forecast to open during the first half of 2022.

WATCH: Crossrail delayed until ‘first half of 2022’