Network Rail gears up to defend investment plans

Network Rail has issued a wide-ranging comms brief to boost its planned £37.5bn investment in Britain's railways.

Upgrade: Network Rail plans to invest £3.5bn over five years
Upgrade: Network Rail plans to invest £3.5bn over five years

The rail infrastructure operator is pitching out work worth up to £700,000. It ?announced the investment scheme earlier this month, amid controversy over the rising cost of rail travel.

The five-year investment programme promises faster journeys, improved reliability and 170,000 more peak-time seats.

It is due to start next year as part of attempts to meet the growing demand for train travel, with rail use up by 50 per cent in the past decade alone.

However, the plans rely on reducing costs and involve a further cut to public subsidies, sparking fears of steep fare hikes.

Ed Wilson, head of public affairs at Network Rail, said although there was ‘broad political consensus’, any incoming comms assistance would need to ‘talk people through what investment means in the short and longer term’.

Wilson added that managing the increase in passengers while reducing costs and maintaining punctuality was ‘a complex balance that requires a significant amount of communication to make it clear there are trade-offs’.

The retained brief is currently held by MHP, which is understood to be repitching, and will run for up to five years.

Alongside straight PR work, there will be a strong focus on public affairs and stakeholder engagement across the UK, with the possibility that more than one agency will be appointed.

The company has stated that it aims to reduce the cost of running Britain’s railways by a further 18 per cent, with a £3.1bn savings target for 2019.

The plans are awaiting approval by the Office of Rail Regulation.

The plans in detail

  • It is envisaged 225 million more passenger journeys will be made by rail by 2019.
  • It also expects to see 355,000 more journeys undertaken by trains.
  • Network Rail aims to provide 170,000 extra seats for commuters at peak times.
  • Government subsidies should be no more than £2.9bn, down from £4bn in recent years.

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