Metro chiefs warn of 'spiral of decline' in service if Government don't stump up cash

Metro chiefs have warned of a catastrophic “spiral of decline” if the government does not stump up new cash for the ailing rail service.

Thursday, 4th July 2019, 4:04 pm
Updated Friday, 5th July 2019, 1:50 pm

They fear that journeys will be slower, passenger numbers will decline, and major shutdowns of the Tyne and Wear network will become more regular without a guarantee of funding from ministers.

Metro operator Nexus receives tens of millions of pounds from the government every year in grant money to keep their trains running.

But they are yet to be told what they will receive beyond next March, because the government’s planned Spending Review is yet to go ahead amid Brexit delays and the Conservative leadership race.

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Regional transport chiefs have asked the Department for Transport (DfT) to commit more than £300m between 2020 and 2025 to stop the Metro “dropping off a cliff edge”, but say they have received “limited” feedback.

That funding would have to come on top of £337million that the government has already pledged to fund a new fleet of Metro trains, which will arrive between 2021 and 2024.

Coun Gladys Hobson told a Tyne and Wear transport committee on Thursday that the region was “being treated quite appallingly by the government”.

She added: “They seem to forget that we are running a railway here and we can’t be doing it on a month by month basis. We have to plan maintenance and renewals and servicing.

“We need four or five years of funding to plan ahead and we have always had that. The government is letting us down really badly.”

Nexus’ revenue funding grant from the government, which amounts to £26.1million this year, is only committed until March 2020. A separate capital grant, amounting to £42.7million during 2019/20 and 2020/21, is guaranteed until March 2021.

Those agreements have been in place since 2010 and make up half of the Metro’s yearly budget.

A DfT spokesperson said: “The Tyne and Wear Metro has been an essential part of the public transport network in the North East for 40 years. That is why the Government is committed to investing nearly £340million to upgrade the fleet and secure its future for decades to come.”

A Nexus report to North East Joint Transport Committee members warns that a decrease in funding will result in a “degraded service and the imposition of speed restrictions in order to avoid putting passengers and employees in danger”. That would mean slower journey times and more cancellations, leading to declining passenger numbers and further revenue loss for Nexus.

They also warn that there will be a “continuing and growing risk of catastrophic failure of key assets” and an increase in congestion and pollution as more people turn to road-based travel.

The report adds: “Nexus will be unable to maintain services in accordance with the current timetable, negatively affecting passenger numbers and setting off a spiral of decline in the financial sustainability of the Metro.

“Further, the benefits of the £350m invested in new and upgraded infrastructure since 2010 plus the £362m shortly to be invested in a new fleet (and depot facilities) will be severely compromised and lead to a sub-optimal outcome and poor value for money if this funding commitment cannot be secured, risking severe economic damage being done to the north east.”