Transport Minister Norman Baker gave a video address to the National Railway Museum dinner held in York.
National Railway Museum Dinner
Hello, and thank you for inviting me to speak to you this evening.
While it would be good to meet you all in person, a virtual appearance allows me to demonstrate what I like to call the fifth mode of transport. As well as rail, air, sea and roads, we also have a further option - alternatives to travel.
So while it might appear as though I am about to launch into, “Good evening Azerbaijan - here are the votes of the UK jury”, this is actually me demonstrating my commitment to an important aspect of my ministerial brief!
You are gathered this evening in the impressive setting of the National Railway Museum, which preserves the best of our rail heritage.
It’s always tempting, surrounded by the physical reminders of past rail innovation and talent, to reminisce about a golden age of railways in this country. Defining just when that golden age began and ended is of course half the fun.
But I have a different proposition for you. The golden age of Britain’s railways is right now. After years of decline, the government is pressing ahead with an ambitious set of rail projects that is bigger in scale than anything attempted here for over 100 years.
Because the case for rail investment is overwhelming. We’ve seen massive growth in passenger numbers over the last 15 years. Even the economic traumas of the last 4 years have scarcely put a break on the ever rising popularity of rail travel both passenger and freight.
So, notwithstanding the overriding need to press ahead with tackling the deficit that has been reduced by 25 billion over the last 2 years, the government is determined not to repeat the mistake made in so many previous downturns. That of putting on ice the rail investment that can actually enable the economy to grow.
Obviously there have been some very difficult decisions on issues such as VAT and welfare reform, but we’ve been able to commit £18 billion to rail in this spending review period.
So as well as our plans for transformational high speed rail, we’re delivering:
- the Thameslink programme
- electrification of key routes in the north of England and on the Great Western line
- massive redevelopment of stations like Birmingham New Street and Reading
- the first elements of the Northern Hub project
That’s in addition to around 2,700 new carriages, including the Intercity Express Programme.
And significant improvements to the light rail networks in Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham and Newcastle, plus my announcement earlier this month of the tram train pilot between Sheffield and Rotherham. Not forgetting the long awaited upgrade of the London Underground.
What’s more, nearly a quarter of a century after it was first mooted, Crossrail construction is now well underway.
Crossrail is the biggest construction project in Europe and tunnelling under central London began earlier this month. Crossrail provides a vitally needed uplift to the capital’s public transport system and a crucial new link to our nation’s busiest and most important airport.
As well as improving life for passengers, all of this adds up to a period of historic opportunity for the rail industry and those who supply it.
But investment alone cannot prepare our railway for the future.
We learnt from the last government that simply spending more and more on public services is no guarantee of success.
Investment must be accompanied by change and reform, with a clear focus on improving the passenger experience and reducing costs.
It is only through reform that we can respond to understandable passenger concerns on fares.
If the rail industry is to earn the ‘right to grow’ highlighted in Sir Roy McNulty’s report on value for money, it is essential that costs come down.
There’s already some progress.
Network Rail is due to deliver £1.2 billion of efficiency savings by 2014 with at least a further £600 million expected by 2019.
But more needs to be done.
By 2019, we want the industry to close the full £3.5 billion efficiency gap identified in the McNulty report.
It’s clear that none of us can deliver the change we need in isolation.
All too often in the past, governments have either imposed their own plans for reform on the railway, or simply set targets for the industry to achieve without giving them the means to do so.
In contrast, we have sought to build a consensus for change using a collaborative approach. Because we believe that working effectively together is essential if we are to achieve the modern, affordable, efficiently-run rail network that our country needs.
I am persuaded that the rail industry can have it all.
Tackling costs while continuing to grow.
Deliver high profile projects while moving passengers and freight across the network in unprecedented numbers, every day.
Cutting carbon and creating growth. So tonight look around and remember with a fondness a golden past but also celebrate the golden present as well.
When Jimmy Saville said it, it wasn’t true. But it is now. This is the age of the train.
Thank you and I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening.