The new chief executive of Network Rail Andrew Haines has not ruled out potentially selling off stations in future if it can be proven to be value for money for passengers and the taxpayer.
Speaking to the Transport select committee in parliament, Mr Haines noted that it would be hard to classify many stations as “non-core” assets for the railway given the critical function they play as part of the rail network.
However the rail boss said he would be open to discussions if a meaningful proposal was bought forward.
“I have a very pragmatic view of these things, I want to see more money invested in the railway and I want us to use it wisely.
“If we can find partners that will allow us to bring additional finance into the railway without jeopardising the operational integrity of the railway I will be very keen to explore that. It has to be value for money and it has to work for both parties.
Asked by committee member and conservative MP for Bexhill and Battle Huw Merriman about any further plans for Network Rail in regards to selling parts of the estate, including stations, Haines said: “I wouldn’t rule out disposing of certain stations… [however], I am not sure that stations are non-core [assets].
“If people have got innovative ideas about how they may run a station, and they may run it better than Network Rail, subject to protecting the employment of my employees I would be very happy to talk to them about it.”
Mr Haines’ comments come as the rail body finalised the sale of a £1.5bn property portolio to private firms Telereal Trillium and Blackstone.
The rail boss was also critical of the previous Network Rail investment round, Control Period 5 (CP5), which has been criticised for delays and overspend.
Mr Haines said that CP5 was a “top-down plan” that led to disruption and added costs whereas the next investment cycle [CP6] had been built from the “bottom up”, with new proposals expected to be thought out thoroughly, including a business case, before being given the go-ahead.
Asked by Transport committee chair Lilian Greenwood about the plans to improve the rail link between Manchester and Leeds, known as the TransPennine upgrade, Mr Haines raised concerns that the project may fail to meet raised expectations due to the level of cost and disruption involved.
He said: “It [TransPennine] is a good example of somewhere where there is a potential misalignment of what people would like to do, and what is available in funds and the scale of disruption.
“The TransPennine would probably be the biggest redevelopment of an existing railway line since the west coast mainline intervention. The ability to do it without significantly disrupting passengers will to a certain extent temper what people would like to do.
“It feels like a project which, if we had thought more clearly about the desired outcomes at the outset, we may have made more progress.
Mr Haines said he expected the contribution from the private sector to increase over time, with work on new lines that do not disrupt the rail the obvious choice for third-party contractors to challenge Network Rail for work.
The Network Rail chief stated that the Heathrow western access route, a 6.5 km railway linking the airport to the Great Western Mainline and the Felixstowe Loop upgrade project were prime candidates for third-party contracts.
“You are allowing the third party to take on a project without having to take on the full risk of the operational railway.
“I think you can be a nationalised industry and still want to use private finance to supplement your core expenditure.”