Intercity Express decision due in October

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The Independent Online

A decision on whether new intercity express trains will be introduced on two busy rail routes will be made in October, it was announced today.

And it is by no means certain that the Intercity Express Programme (IEP), which would provide new 125mph trains for the East Coast and Greater Western lines, will go ahead.

The IEP has been independently reviewed by Sir Andrew Foster whose report today recommends a period of reflection to consider the alternatives to IEP.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said a decision on the future of IEP would be made at the same time as the Government's spending review announcement in October.

The DfT added: "As expenditure on all rail projects will be reassessed as part of the spending review, the Government believes that it would be irresponsible to make a decision on IEP in isolation at this time, particularly given the interdependencies between IEP and other major rail investments.

"Over the past four months, the IEP has been independently reviewed by Sir Andrew Foster, and the department is publishing his report today. His report recommends a period of reflection to consider the alternatives to IEP.

"The Government therefore proposes to use the period up until the spending review to give further consideration to the alternatives to IEP."

The preferred bidder for the IEP is Agility Trains, a consortium consisting of Hitachi Rail Europe and John Laing.

It was originally hoped that the new trains could be introduced by 2014. But earlier this year the then transport secretary Lord Adonis suspended the programme and announced Sir Andrew's review.

Agility Trains said today: "We have seen the Foster Report and statement by the Secretary of State for Transport.

"We understand the Government's wish to make a co-ordinated decision on major rail projects in the forthcoming review period, and to look again at the points raised by Sir Andrew Foster."

Agility went on: "We have confidence in the performance of our product as shown by our readiness to offer not only trains, but a guaranteed service level to our customers.

"The proposal provides a step-change in capacity with relatively minor expenditure on infrastructure, as well as the opportunity to bring a major manufacturing facility and state of the art technology to the UK.

"We have expressed our commitment to continue working with the DfT to respond to the points in the report, and to find an affordable solution which meets the Government's objectives."

In a Parliamentary Written Statement today, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said Sir Andrew, in his report, had suggested that the IEP was "positive and attractive" in a number of ways.

Mr Hammond went on: "He (Sir Andrew) suggests that the PFI-style (private finance initiative) funding arrangement is novel and well-aligned in terms of financial incentives, faster acceleration and longer carriages would have a positive impact on network and passenger capacity, and the specification has also taken network sustainability and environmental imperatives seriously."

Mr Hammond added: "While Sir Andrew's report acknowledges that the programme has exceeded the department's value-for-money thresholds, the value for money has declined over time, and Sir Andrew suggests that he is not convinced that all of the viable alternatives to the programme have been assessed alongside it on an equal footing.

"Therefore the Government will use the period up until the spending review is completed to give further consideration to the alternatives to IEP."

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