£3.5bn plan announced to help South-East's busy rail network

A five-year plan that will cost £3.5bn has been announced to renew the South-East's congested rail network.

Infrastructure owner and operator, Network Rail says that the publication of the Strategic Business Plan (SBP) is a major milestone in the ongoing process to determine Network Rail’s funding requirements for the five years to 2024.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) will now review the plan and make a draft determination of Network Rail’s funding needs in June, and a final determination in the autumn.

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The plan for 2019-24 proposes record investment in the day-to-day running of the South-East route, the busiest and most economically vital part of the UK network, which connects London and its southern and south-eastern suburbs with Kent, Surrey, Sussex and cross-Channel routes to Europe.

The plans include:

- Completely replacing the signalling system (which controls how and where trains run) over a significant area. This includes London Victoria station and the Brighton Main Line as far as Balham, the Chatham Main line to Penge East through Brixton and Herne Hill and suburban routes to Denmark Hill and Crofton Park.

- Rolling out digital Traffic Management technology across the whole route, providing signallers and controllers with a system-wide view and the ability to predict delays before they happen and plan accordingly

- Refurbishing and renewing 650km of track

- Replacing 754 sets of points, which allow trains to move from one track to another

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- Targeted improvements to 300 earthworks – 30 per cent of the route’s total

Network Rail say that all of the above will be targeted at areas that will have the biggest impact on train reliability and passengers.

John Halsall, Network Rail’s South-East route managing director, said: “The growth we’ve seen in recent years, and which is set to continue, show just how important the railway is – but it also means that disruption can have a major impact on many people’s lives and businesses.

“This five-year plan represents a significant investment railway for passengers in the South-East, to give them the service they expect and deserve – a more frequent, more reliable train service, supported by digital technology, on a network that is even safer for our workforce, passengers and the wider public.”

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More than 510 million journeys a year are taken on South-East route – far more than any other part of the network and around a third of the UK total – and that number is set to rise by a further 11% over the next five years with the new high-frequency Thameslink timetable delivering up to 24 trains per hour through central London and continued growth in jobs and housing in the South-East.

Freight traffic is also expected to increase – on top of the 23% growth since 2014 – driven by the booming construction industry and wider economic growth.

Network Rail say: “The investment set out today will be used to operate, maintain and renew our infrastructure, including 2,000 miles of track, 3,000 bridges, 85 tunnels and more than 500 level crossings while rolling out digital technology at our state-of-the-art rail operating centre at Three Bridges to help improve punctuality and reduce delays when incidents occur.”

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