It is a great pleasure to be here today (10 October 2013).
And to speak to such a distinguished audience of rail professionals from both Japan and Britain.
Thank you Mr Ambassador –and to all your staff here at the Embassy – for organising today’s seminar and exhibition which I was delighted to look at earlier.
We are here, of course, to remember and celebrate the Choshu 5 who 150 years ago courageously embarked on a journey into the unknown.
Coming to this country from Japan in 1863 must have been an extraordinary experience.
It was the height of the industrial revolution in Britain.
Our society was in flux.
And our economy was being transformed from one that was essentially agrarian, to one that was powered by large scale, urban manufacturing.
All this left its mark on the 5 pioneering visitors from Western Japan.
The journey not only changed them as individuals, but as history shows it was instrumental in the emergence of a more modern Japan in the years after they returned home.
It saw how the Victorian railway in Britain provided the arteries through which the lifeblood of our economy flowed.
As we know, following his London studies, he built the first railway in Japan and became the country’s first minister of railways.
Links with Japan’s rail industry
Since then, Japan’s railway has gone from strength to strength.
And the flow of knowledge between our countries continues to this day.
We very much value the UK-Japan Rail Cooperation meetings which are hosted alternately by my department and the Japanese Minister of Transport.
And I know my former colleague Simon Burns certainly learned a lot when he visited Japan earlier this year and travelled on both the classic rail and Shinkansen networks.
Simon was delighted to see UK companies like Pandrol and Nomad selling quality products to the Japanese rail market.
That’s something I will be working towards and I’d like to see more of in the future.
I think if the Choshu 5 visited the UK today, they’d be interested in what they found…
A commitment to technological advance.
Huge opportunities with modernising projects like Crossrail and HS2.
And a real sense of a renaissance in the UK rail industry, with a commitment to the value of open markets that’s as strong as ever.
Partnership is also something that drives our domestic rail vision.
When we came to power in 2010, we faced a number of difficult challenges on the railway.
Passenger and freight demand was soaring.
Yet the infrastructure was suffering from decades of underinvestment.
I believe we have responded with the biggest rail modernisation programme for many generations.
Our Rail Investment Strategy is committing £16 billion for rail between 2014 and 2019.
This includes £9.4 billion of infrastructure improvements.
Together with the industry, we’re building Crossrail, a new rail line across London and the south east.
We’re electrifying 850 miles of line…
And we’re investing £5.8 billion in a new generation of inter-city trains that will transform travel on the Great Western and East Coast mainline. This adds very significantly to the connection between our 2 countries as these intercity express trains will be built by Hitachi but assembled at their new plant in Newton Aycliffe.
We have a stable investment climate and continue to welcome private investment in our railway from around the world.
Costs and franchising
But modernising the existing network is only part of the answer to the challenges we face in this country.
Money alone won’t build the railway we want to see.
We also need to get costs down – for both the taxpayer and the farepayer.
So we are working with the industry to cut £3.5 billion a year off the cost of running the railways by 2019.
This will allow us to end above-inflation fare rises, reduce the burden on the public purse, and continue investing to improve passenger journeys.
And 20 years after a Conservative government privatised the train operators…
20 years in which passenger demand has doubled…
Performance has improved…
Investment has risen…
And in which 4000 services a day have been added to the timetable…
We are making good progress with our forward franchise programme.
We’ve engaged closely with the industry and potential bidders worldwide in industry days over the last year.
We welcome the continued participation and expertise of Japanese companies in our rail industry as we move forward with our franchise strategy, delivering better value and better performance.
And we look forward to similar opportunities for UK rail firms in Japan.
High speed rail
But despite all the changes and the investments we are making since privatistion, our existing railway will be unable to absorb rising passenger demand for much longer.
Without action, our main north-south routes will be overwhelmed by the middle of next decade.
That’s why I am convinced we need a national high speed network for Britain.
High Speed 1 opened in 2007 and runs for 68 miles (108 kilometres) from the Channel Tunnel to the magnificently renovated Victorian station at St. Pancras in London.
Preparations for our next high speed line – High Speed 2.
This will link London with Birmingham, Manchester, the East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds.
The economic potential is clear; faster journeys, more capacity and better connected cities and regions.
HS2 will deliver around £2 of economic benefits for every £1 spent, and create 100,000 jobs.
A new report by KPMG shows HS2 could give a £15 billion a year boost to our economy.
When the network is complete up to 18 trains per hour will run with each carrying up to 1,100 passengers.
Released capacity offers huge potential for increased freight services - meaning fewer cars and lorries on our roads, cutting congestion and carbon.
It will also free up substantial passenger capacity on the existing railway.
I recognise and so does the government that a key challenge for High Speed 2 is designing a railway that has minimal impact on surrounding communities and environment.
We are proving this can be accomplished by refining the design of the scheme…
For example, lowering the route to avoid visual intrusion, and building longer tunnels…
Britain excels at designing infrastructure, with companies such as Arup leading their field internationally.
We’re making good use of these skills with HS2.
But we still have much to learn from the Shinkansen operation in Japan which clearly leads the world in innovation and safety, 49 years after its inception.
The Shinkansen’s unblemished safety record is something all countries aspire to.
Stops en route are brief and precise.
And turnaround times are extraordinarily quick.
The Institution of Engineering Technology here in London recently hosted a seminar on HS2 where Mr Ogata of Japan Railways-East gave an fascinating talk.
It is great for us to benefit from the knowledge and experience of Japanese rail executives and specialists who have done so much to establish high speed rail as a global solution to our modern transport needs.
It is worth remembering that the Shinkansen was launched the same year as the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games.
History has now come full circle as a new generation of visitors will travel on the network at the 2020 Olympics.
That proves the enduring appeal and effectiveness of high speed rail.
And I’m sure it’s something that the Choshu 5 – would be very proud of.
Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen it has been an honour to address you all today. I wish you a successful seminar.