A £10m pledge made by the Labour administration to help cyclists integrate their journeys with the rail network has been overturned.
In September 2009 the Department for Transport trumpeted the initiative championed by the then Transport Secretary Lord Adonis, as money “to transform facilities for cyclists at rail stations and encourage healthier, greener travel.”
A total of £14m was promised, made up of £10m to implement recommendations from the so-called Station Champions and Network Rail. This comprised an initial £5m announced in June 2009 for 10 so-called rail Cycle Hubs, together with an additional £5m coming from the Department for Transport and Network Rail.
This was supplemented by £4m from Cycling England which has been made available to four Cycle Demonstration 'Bike 'n' Ride' Train Operating Companies: Virgin Rail, Southwest Trains, Merseyrail and Northern Rail who have embarked on a cycle facility spending programme which is due to end this year.
As for the promised £10m, today a spokeswoman for the DfT told road.cc: “The £10m funding for cycle facilities at stations was announced by a previous administration. The current Government’s priority is reducing the deficit. As a result the spending review has seen cuts in various budgets.”
So, should we forget about the healthier, greener travel encouraged by the Labour government? Not quite. The DfT told us: “The Government recognises the importance of investing in station improvements and is committed to facilitating this investment through reforms to the way the railways are run.”
Right. So who is going to make that "facilitated" investment? It seems the answer lies, in part, with the private sector rail franchisees who are going to be expected to cough up, in return for longer franchise periods.
The spokeswoman said: “The Department will grant longer rail franchises in order to give train operators the incentive to invest in the improvements passengers want, including better cycle facilities at stations. We will also be considering options to alter the balance of responsibility for stations between Network Rail and the train operators.”
And therein, perhaps, lies the rub. Franchisees come and go, they clearly want to make money during their tenure and, in some cases, they may want to quit while they are ahead without having to make massive, long term investments.
Network Rail’s remit, however, is to manage the rail infrastructure on a permanent basis. But the company has previously stated that it does not believe its role is to fund cycle facilities at railway stations. Now, it seems, the Government is saying: “Tough. You are going to have to.”
The Department for Transport's spokeswoman said: “We have worked closely with Network Rail who has agreed to fund £5m from their Discretionary Fund to improve cycle facilities at stations. This, in addition to £1m already spent by the Department, will see a £6m investment in cycle facilities at stations.”
So, that means that £4m of promised funding will not materialise. Despite having a Discretionary Fund of £284m, Network Rail actually attempted to raise credit in order to secure £7m of the £9m they should have contributed to the £10m total. Had they done so, this would have allowed them to pull just £2m from their healthy-looking Discretionary Fund.
The official rail regulator forbade this attempt to raise credit, forcing Network Rail to use cash from its Discretionary Fund, which is effectively its operating profits.
As for the missing £4m that Network Rail could have made available to honour the Labour administration's promises, the company says that there are many competing interests for the cash, including better disabled access, improved lighting and other station facilities, some of which take precedent.