Anyone who has commuted by train in rush hour knows that the UK’s rail system is seriously feeling the strain of a growing population.
Network Rail laid out some stats to back this up this morning in its full-year results. An extra 67.3 million people started using the trains over the last year, taking the total number of travellers to a record high of 1.65 billion. That’s over double the figure from 20 years ago.
As a result of this surge, Network Rail, which maintains the UK’s railways, is having to frantically pump money into the railway to keep up with demand.
The company spent £3.4 billion ($US5.25 billion) on servicing and upgrading the network last year — equivalent to over £100 million ($US154.5 million) every week. That’s double what it was spending five years ago.
Most of that — £2.9 billion ($US4.48 billion) — went on replacing worn out assets, i.e. replacing old rails and fixing broken trains. Most of the network was built decades ago.
Those are some pretty insane stats. Spending £2.9 billion ($US4.48 billion) renovating a network while 1.65 billion people are using it is like trying to rebuild a packed car while it’s travelling at 60 miles an hour.
To make matters worse Network Rail had its budget cut by £246 million ($US380 million) last year after the government, which is desperately trying to balance its own books, decided it didn’t need as much money.
This subsidy cut, combined with financial hedges that went against the company, meant Network Rail’s pre-tax profit plummeted from £1.03 billion ($US1.59 billion) to £506 million ($US781.7 million) last year. Any profits it does make are reinvested in the railway.
Finance director Patrick Butcher says: “The railways continue to grow in popularity and we continue to invest heavily to respond to that demand. While progress is being made in improving performance, safety, asset reliability and delivering more renewals and projects, our rate of acceleration in these areas isn’t yet where we want it to be.
“With more than a million more trains on the network than ten years ago, there are inevitable challenges. We are determined to do more to improve and action is being taken to quicken the pace of change.”