Thank you for that introduction Julie (Julie Hilling - Chair of APPG). And many thanks for asking me along today.
The reputation of this group and its members as rail champions for the north really does go before you, so I’m genuinely delighted to be here.
I’d like to kick things off with a promise - always a hostage to fortune for a politician I know.
But anyway, here it is.
I know you all have packed diaries and busy schedules - so I promise to try and keep my speech short.
I was going to say keep it “brief”.
But, since becoming a minister, I’ve discovered that Whitehall is the only place on earth where, without a trace of irony, the term “brief” is used to describe a 10,000 word document.
Modern enough, connected enough, fast enough
Now, I have a pretty straightforward view about Britain’s rail network, and it’s this - out-dated and over-burdened railways just won’t cut it in today’s global economy.
They cost hard working families and hard pressed businesses time and money. And, in these testing economic times, you can be sure they are anything but an engine for powering up the recovery.
They don’t do our environment too many favours either.
Let’s be honest, relying on creaking and crumbling rail infrastructure is no way to shrink transport’s carbon footprint.
So, it doesn’t matter if it’s a regional link or a national network - Britain needs railways that are modern enough, connected enough and fast enough:
- modern enough to support economic growth and spur job creation
- connected enough to spread prosperity and open up life-changing chances for people
- and fast enough to attract passengers and freight away from less eco-friendly alternatives like long-distance road travel and short-haul flying
Rolling up our sleeves
I am absolutely convinced that a good rail system can do great things - socially, economically and environmentally.
But, as we all know, the good and the great don’t come about simply because politicians are very keen on them.
No, you only get concrete results by rolling up your sleeves and getting on with it. And that’s precisely what this government’s been doing on rail:
- £18 billion invested in our railways during this spending review period
- a massively ambitious programme of rail modernisation
- and a range of groundbreaking reforms…. …from driving down costs and driving up efficiencies to devolving decision-making
Indeed, on the second of those reforms, devolution, I know that there was a big response from people and organisations in the north to our rail decentralisation consultation…so I want to thank everyone who took the trouble to have their say.
No community left out, no region left behind.
This is a government that believes in top quality railways.
And that belief is underpinned by a rock-solid principle. Namely that no community should be left out, no region should be left behind.
As far as I’m concerned, if we want all of Britain to be open for business then we can’t afford for any part of Britain to be isolated or disconnected from the country’s wider transport system.
Local, and actually national success, demands that north, south, east and west are plugged in and joined up.
Transforming the performance and prospects of rail in the north
This is the very reason that transforming the performance and the prospects of rail in the north is a first order priority for the government.
Now, when it comes to one particular component of rail services in the north, I’ll admit that the DfT hasn’t enjoyed its best media coverage lately. I’m of course talking about the west coast mainline bid.
And I don’t for one minute seek to carp or complain about that coverage.
Serious matters tend to generate serious headlines.
They also demand a serious response…which is why we are facing up to what went wrong and putting things right.
None-the less, I genuinely hope that none of the recent coverage obscures the bigger, and more positive, picture about what’s happening to rail in the north.
Take our recent approval of a £4.5 billion contract to build a new generation of intercity trains at a purpose-built factory in County Durham.
This means that passengers will be speeding along the tracks onboard new high-tech, high-spec trains.
But there’s also a welcome employment bonus, with the creation of 730 skilled jobs, as well as another 200 jobs during construction.
And let’s not forget our HLOS announcement - a £9.4 billion investment programme that will uplift rail capacity and improve rail connections right across the north.
I’m also pleased to say that work is well underway on the north-west electrification scheme….improving travel between Manchester and Liverpool.
But we’re not stopping there.
Because we also intend building a brand new electric passenger and freight corridor - a rail spine linking the towns, cities and economies of the north, with the towns, cities and economies of the Midlands and south of England such as Sheffield, Nottingham, Reading and Southampton.
The electric trains that run on these lines will be cleaner and cheaper to run than diesels.
They’ll have better acceleration and shift greater loads.
And they’ll carry more passengers with fewer delays.
In plain English our investment is good for passengers, good for business and good for the environment.
I can also tell you that funding worth some £240 million will mean that rail users in the North enjoy more seats, quicker journeys and better services on the East Coast Main Line.
And of course, the communities and companies of the region are set to be big winners from the backing the government is giving to the northern hub.
And let me say this - the Northern Hub is about the transforming the rail experience across the whole North, from Newcastle in the north-east to Liverpool in the north-west.
Now, in terms of travel benefits this is a genuine landmark enterprise.
But there’s even better news
And that’s because Network Rail estimate the northern hub will also bring over £4 billion worth of wider economic benefits to the region and potentially as many twenty to thirty thousand new jobs.
If you’ll forgive the unintended pun, looking down the track there is another game-changing rail modernisation heading towards the North - HS2.
This national high speed rail network will slash journey times and deliver a step change in capacity on routes between Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham, London and Manchester - and possibly to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Firms in the north will be able to use HS2 to exploit new markets and attract new investment.
While the region’s communities will have better access to jobs and essential services.
HS2 is a core component of the government’s long-term transport strategy.
And so, for the sake of every region, it’s a project we’re determined to push across the finishing line.
Okay, I think it’s time I kept the promise I made right at the start of this speech by winding up my remarks.
And let’s be frank, nobody ever complained that a politician’s’ speech was too short.
So, if I may, I’d like to finish with a quote by one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin.
Now I grant you that’s a less than orthodox way to end a rail speech.
But, for me, this quote sums up our approach to rail modernisation.
Back in the 18th century Ben Franklin argued that, when it came to governing, “well done is better than well said.”
If you ask me, that’s a yardstick which still stands the test of time.
But I’m equally sure that, judged against it, the way this government is renewing, rebuilding and reforming our railways proves that, just like the great man said - actions really do speak louder than words.
This speech represented existing departmental policy but the words may not have been the same as those used by the minister.