Full speed ahead for rail strategy

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Passengers are made the priority as government implements massive spending programme.

Good morning everyone.

I’m delighted to be here today (22 January 2015).

With so many expert and distinguished guests from across the rail industry.

The turnout this morning is testament to the success of the Rail 100 Breakfast Club in bringing the industry together and providing a forum for debate.

As we enter the home straight in the run-up to the general election, many people are asking about the prospects for rail in the next parliament.

Certainly, the business world sent out a clear message in a CBI Infrastructure Survey published before Christmas.

Let me read you a couple of lines.

It said:

The UK’s railways are demonstrating real improvement and good outcomes.

For passengers, businesses and investors.

Investments in the rail network are paying off.

So we should not deviate from the current course.

Well I’d like to assure you today that we won’t be deviating.

Our rail plan is to keep on doing what we’ve done for the past 5 years.

First, investing and modernising for the long-term future, while doing everything we can to improve services in the short term.

Second, government providing the certainty and political commitment the industry has asked for, just as we’ve done by setting out our full spending programme through to 2021.

And third, showing how the market best serves customers, with train operators competing and innovating for the benefit of passengers.

The survey of CBI members showed, and I quote:

Overwhelming support for the system of franchising.

With businesses backing the current regime to continue delivering improvements.

Improvements like the excellent recent East Coast deal.

Which will last for 8 years.

Including the introduction of new IEP trains.

Boosting capacity on the franchise by around half.

Delivering £140 million investment in better facilities.

Adding 5 new direct connections to London.

And benefiting the public purse by around £3.3 billion over the life of the contract.

But the CBI also had a warning – saying:

Elections are often about articulating different visions for the UK’s future.

However, when things are working well, it’s important we stay the course rather than change direction in order to demonstrate difference or score political points.

This sent out a message to all those who think the best way forward with rail is to turn the clock back.

By renationalising the network.

What the railway needs isn’t a retreat back 20 years.

It’s investment, improvement and progress.

The type of investment, improvement and progress that we’ve seen under the current government.

So we will build on the successes of our current strategy.

But we will also act when things go wrong.

As they did this Christmas, with the unacceptable disruption to services in and around London.

The problems didn’t just stem from over-running engineering work.

They were also due to poor planning, putting far too much pressure on Finsbury Park station, and a failure to communicate with passengers.

With avoidable disruption like this, it is right that those responsible are held to account.

And once the enquiries into the incidents are complete, I will consider what action to take.

But I also accept that on a wider scale, with such an ambitious programme to upgrade and expand the network, not every project will run smoothly.

But the railway has to get better at handling problems when they arise, by having contingency plans in place, and working with passengers far more effectively.

This will be vital in the years ahead.

Because together, we have a huge programme to deliver.



Capacity for another 140,000 commuting journeys into our big cities.

Northern Hub.

And the start of construction for HS2.

On its own, this is already an ambitious strategy.

But we’re not going to stop there.

Right from the start, this government promised long-term infrastructure development.

So we’ll also be looking at the prospects for Crossrail 2.

And plans to improve connections right across the network.

We’re studying plans for HS3, a new fast link across the Pennines.

Increasingly, we want regions, cities and towns to take on more responsibility for transport.

So we’re supporting a new elected major for Greater Manchester.

And we are making steps to devolve rail services more widely across the north and the West Midlands.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was in Yorkshire for the first meeting of Transport for the North with leaders from across the region discussing plans for a Northern Powerhouse.

This was the first step in drawing up a comprehensive strategy to transform the north’s infrastructure.

Not just east-west train links.

Also roads, ports, and airports.

But it’s not just about investment – and providing capacity to meet rising demand.

It’s also about making things better for passengers.

This will be a key theme for the next 5 years.

For example I want to see ticketing modernised for the digital age.

There’s no reason why, by the end of the next parliament, most rail tickets can’t be digital.

This would be transformational for many commuters, allowing things like more flexible season tickets.

Why should buying a train ticket be so complex?

The railway should be helping its customers get on and get around.

And that doesn’t just mean season ticket holders.

It means visitors from abroad using the network for the first time.

Last year’s story in the Daily Telegraph about ticket machines overcharging passengers reflected badly on the whole industry.

That’s why we arranged a meeting with industry representatives.

At which operators agreed to sign up to a code of practice overseen by the ORR to end inconsistencies between ticket prices – depending on where you buy them.

So, as we enter the final few months of this parliament, we can look back on a period of tremendous progress for transport – and particularly for the railway.

As the CBI members acknowledged, the structure of the railway is right.

After all, it’s already provided massive improvements for rail users.

Big increases in capacity.

Better reliability and safety.

And an increasingly effective franchise system.

But now we’ve got the broad strategy right too.

I recognise that this is a challenging programme.

And we may not get everything right first time.

But I’ve no doubt that the railway will rise to each challenge.

And continue on the path of improvement it’s been following for the past 20 years.

Thank you.