Smart Transport

English rail system cost £17.4 billion last year, according to financial overview

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England’s rail system cost £17.4 billion, including £5.1bn from taxpayers, according to the latest financial overview for 2019-20 from the National Audit Office (NAO).

Building on information published by the Office of Rail and Road, Network Rail and the audited accounts, the overview examines income and expenditure from the five financial years ending in March 2020.

The breakdown in expenditure shows £9.5bn as spent on operating rail passenger services; £7.1bn was spent on operating rail network infrastructure; and £0.9bn was spent on operating freight services and High Speed 1 (HS1).

Around 80% of income (£12bn) was earned through passenger fares. However, the NAO said these proportions then changed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

The NAO said the arrangements for delivering rail services in England are complex, and distributed across the public and private sector.

This makes it difficult for Parliament and taxpayers to understand the overall financial position, to which the taxpayer is ultimately exposed, and the impact of government's choices.

A statement from the NAO said: “This financial overview aims to enhance clarity at a moment of significant industry change. 

“The anticipated recommendations from the Williams Rail Review (a root and branch review of Britain’s railway) are expected to address long-standing issues within the system and will be published in a context of heightened uncertainty about the future demand for rail.

“There are a number of significant challenges for the Government to address, including managing costs to taxpayers and rail's contribution to the government's net zero target for carbon emissions.”

The full NAO financial overview can be viewed in full here.

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