Rural lines three times more expensive to use
Findings contained in a track access charging review report commissioned by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) indicate that the variable track usage costs on rural and secondary lines can be as much as three times higher than those on the main network.
This seems to be at variance with PTEG’s A Heavy Load to Bear report (July 2014) which argued regional rail services were being unfairly penalised; PTEG maintained that light weight regional trains were allocated the same track maintenance and renewals costs as inter-city trains, which caused ‘twenty times the infrastructure damage per mile.’
The RDG initiated its study of the charging system in early 2014 and has now published its summary report detailing its findings. The work was done in three different phases and was conducted by three different consultancies. The key finding appears to be that no major changes to the charging and incentive system are needed, though the current system should be fine tuned to make it more responsive to user needs .
Phase three of the report looked at 22 different charging options: One option was entitled the ‘geographic disaggregation of the variable usage charge’. While different rail vehicle types currently pay different variable usage charges according to estimated the wear and tear they impose on the track, the charge is applied uniformally across the network without regard to route or region.
Quoting Network Rail estimates (at 2006-07 prices), the report puts the national average cost at £1.79 per kgtkm (kilogramme tonne-kilometres). This compares with primary routes (£1.30); London & South East routes (£1.84); secondary routes (£3.04); and rural routes (£6.44). “The marginal maintenance/renewal costs of using busy mainlines is relatively low compared to rural lines,” says the report.
However, changing the usage charges to reflect these regional differences would only add another layer of complexity, which would probably cancel out any benefit notes the report.
LTT contacted PTEG to comment on the RDG findings but had not received a response at the time of going to press.