There is something curious in the way that several key transport decisions were left out of the CSR on Wednesday. The four missing announcements were: the big order for Intercity Express trains from the Hitachi-led Agility consortium, the electrification of the Great Western line, another order for about a thousand train carriages and the Thameslink upgrade.
Sources in the Department for Transport insist that these interconnected upgrades are genuinely going to the wire. They depend, for example, on Agility’s ability to reduce its original £7.5bn cost by a significant margin.
Yet the DfT’s budget is now settled, albeit at 9.30pm on Tuesday, last of all the departments. Its capital spending is hardly taking a dent (down from £7.7bn to £7.5bn) although programme spending will fall from £5.1bn to £4.4bn (a rise in train fares will help to compensate).
Crossrail will go ahead, as George Osborne announced on Wednesday. What of the other four programmes? If they were being universally ditched, wouldn’t it make sense to have bundled that bad news up in Wednesday’s tsunami of cuts?
Philip Hammond is meant to be clarifying the decision in a few weeks. At which point the coalition is supposed to be into its period of “growth stories”, a narrative which will involve a sequence of uplifting tales about renewed investment and spending to help UK plc. One might expect good news on rail projects to be part of this jolly grid. If not it would be a surprisingly bad piece of news management.