I’m still waiting to see private investment take off

Better rail access to Heathrow Airport is urgently required, and private investment offers a solution. But a series of problems blocks the way forward, says CHRISTIAN WOLMAR

ONE of the big promises of rail privatisation was that there would be significant private investment to take the load off the Treasury. In fact, in the past 25 years, there has been precious little. The big exception is rolling stock, although that was sold off cheaply in the first place. There have been various Private Finance Initiative and Public Private Partnership schemes that have brought in some outside money (notably the wasteful London Underground PPP), but generally at a high cost. Major schemes such as Crossrail and HS2 have been entirely paid for by public sources, and the bulk of the near £50 billion earmarked for the next Control Period is also from the taxpayer. Now, however, there is the opportunity to see a chunk of railway added to the network, funded by private sources. In March, Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling announced that he wanted the private sector to come forward with ‘market-led’ proposals for investment in the railway. His main focus was on southern access to Heathrow, for which he specifically sought proposals, and he then added (almost as an afterthought) “any other schemes”.

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