Network Rail says it is to focus on the really important stuff rather than finance multi-billion mega-projects.
The not-for-profit company wants to slash delays by 15% and introduce almost 1,000 new daily services by 2021.
As part of its £47.1bn five-year plan, NR said the majority of its budget from 2019 would be spent on maintenance, operations and renewals to make the most of the existing railway.
Mark Carne, its chief executive, said: “The last five years has been about huge projects, like Thameslink, Crossrail, Great Western electrification and Edinburgh-Glasgow electrification. The next control period is slightly different.
“We have 20,000 miles of track and 4.5 million people every day who depend on the railway and I think it should be our primary responsibility to make sure that we run that network reliably and efficiently for them.”
Carne said NR would “focus relentlessly on making our railway more reliable”.
Just £10.1bn will be available for “enhancements”, or rail upgrades, the majority of which are expected to be works deferred from the 2014-19 plan.
Most of that money is earmarked for the TransPennine line from Leeds to Manchester, where up to 20 schemes are pencilled in.
The current programme, which ends in 2019, has been described as the biggest upgrade to the railway network since Victorian times.
But many initiatives have been delayed or scrapped, beset by cost overruns.
Publicly-owned Network Rail owns and operates the railway infrastructure in England, Wales and Scotland.
The Office of Rail & Road regulator will be assessing the plan and could yet reject parts of it, or cut the money made available from taxpayers.
Its final verdict is expected to be delivered by the end of the year.