BILLIONS of pounds are set to be invested to enhance the region’s rail network.

Network Rail will invest £2bn to enhance its services across the Wessex region which covers Southampton and Hampshire as part of its five-year plan, published yesterday.

Under the plans, Network Rail will undertake a programme of renewing old Victorian railway bridges, modernising or closing level crossings and digitising their signalling systems which will mean a more efficient and safer railway for trains.

Transport bosses said that the work will provide more opportunities for third-party investors in Hampshire, which could create and bring forward more projects as well as reduce delays and improve reliability for rail passengers.

Becky Lumlock, route managing director for Network Rail’s Wessex route, said: “This ambitious plan will help us deliver a more reliable service for the millions of people who travel on the route every day, from Waterloo to Southampton, and beyond.

“Our stretch of railway is one the busiest and most congested in the UK - we’re already running at capacity with 230 million passenger journey a year, and that number is only set to rise.

“This investment will help us meet this growing demand head-on.”

Councillor Sean Woodward, leader of Fareham Borough Council, said: “I welcome this investment in public transport in South Hampshire.

“It’s important to get more passengers on the railway so it needs more investment and I welcome the fact that it is being made.”

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage, added: “This announcement is positive news and a step towards more modern trains, faster journeys and reliable service.”

Mark Carne, chief executive, Network Rail, said: “This plan builds on these improvements and sets out how we will make the railway more reliable and cost efficient and how we accelerate the technological transformation of our railway into the digital age.

“We will continue our strategy to work more closely with train and freight operators, working together in partnership to continue to expand the network for the millions more who will want and need it in the years ahead.

“It is an ambitious, but realistic plan that is not without challenge but with great people working together in great teams, it can deliver a better railway.”

The Office of Rail and Road will review the plan and make a final determination of Network Rail’s funding needs in the autumn.