Rail policy is still hopelessly entangled in funding crises
The only prediction it seems worth making for the future of transport work is that everything will be subject to change or delay. The government admitted that its

10-year transport plan was in disarray at the end of last year, putting the future of key projects such as CrossRail in doubt. It looks as though 2003 will be the same roller-coaster ride for contractors and consultants as 2002.

After years of gross negligence, the rail sector is facing a year of gross uncertainty. It looks like the £16bn Tube public–private partnership deal is finally crawling to completion, but how surprised would you be if it suffered more difficulties during the year?

On the national scene, Network Rail has taken the throttle from Railtrack, and we now have a clearer structure for maintenance work. However, hopes that a £33bn government spending plan was about to give us a rail system to rival the Japanese or French were dashed in December, when Richard Bowker, chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority, dropped a bombshell.

Bowker said the industry was well on its way to spending its £33bn on existing projects, putting future ones such as Thameslink and CrossRail in doubt. Following that, there were claims that the rail maintenance and renewal spend could be itself reduced, and that there could even be cutbacks on existing works this summer. A gloomy picture, then, brightened only by the desperate nature of the situation. "They still need to do the work or the whole system will fall apart," says one rail consultant.

The outlook is rather better for the roads sector, where £5.5bn worth of work was promised by the government last month. This will lead to the biggest roadbuilding programme for two decades. Key schemes include road widenings for the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester and for the A303 and A30 in the South-west. The government also gave £800m to a plan to extend Manchester's Metrolink to the city airport and backed a tram scheme for Liverpool.