UK Air-Rail Conference

The economic importance of air-rail connections, and the government’s record of investment and modernisation.

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

The Rt Hon Simon Burns

Opening remarks

Thank you for that introduction.

And thank you also for asking me along, it’s a genuine pleasure to be here this morning.

No nation was ever ruined by trade

It was Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers, who said:

No nation was ever ruined by trade.

That statement was spot on when Ben Franklin made it back in the 18th century and it is spot on today, in the 21st century.

Trade is Britain’s economic lifeblood. We’re an island nation that’s at our best when we’re a trading nation.

It’s the very reason this government is re-balancing our economy - moving Britain from a ‘spend and borrow’ past to a ‘make and sell’ future.

But, if they’re going to trade, then our entrepreneurs have to connect - connect with customers and markets, connect with other countries.

In the modern world that usually means a business trip and a seat on a plane - which also means a journey to an airport.

And that’s why air-rail links matter so much.

As the theme of your conference rightly reminds us, these links are all about ‘connecting for growth’.

Right now ‘growth’ is the word on everyone’s lips.

And that’s hardly surprising in these testing times of a Eurozone crisis, a fragile global economy and a record-breaking inherited debt.

Now, while there is sill a long way to go, recent economic figures show we are moving in the right direction.

But I do think there is a tendency in some quarters to talk about growth as though it’s an abstract concept - something that’s separate and stand-alone; something with a life-force all of its very own.

It’s almost as though some commentators believe growth will magically appear of its own volition.

Or that it’ll come about if you say the word often enough, or you want it badly enough.

Well actually, out there in the real world, you can’t talk or wish an economy into growing.

You can’t wave a wand and conjure up growth from thin air.

And you can’t sit back and wait for it to fall in your lap.

Growth comes through hard slog:

  • the competitive company and the skilled workforce
  • the inventors and innovators
  • the risk takers and wealth creators
  • and yes… a supportive and empowering government

This is who and what drives growth.

And that’s where transport can play such a massive part - by providing the vital connections that help to support and sustain growth.

So the bottom line is - the government understands the overriding economic imperative of modernising our railways, our airports and the links between them.


Let me take each of those areas in turn.

First the railways, where we’re engaged in a massive effort to renew and rebuild Britain’s rail networks - and just this summer we announced a new rail investment programme worth more than £9 billion.

We’re driving through landmark projects like Crossrail, Thameslink and the Northern Hub.

We’re going to electrify more than 850 miles of track, compared to the 10 miles electrified by the last administration.

And, right across the country, we’re making rail travel a whole lot better with new services and extra carriages, more seats and faster journeys.

But our focus doesn’t begin and end with the conventional railways.

We also recognise the huge potential benefits of high speed rail.

But we know that our country and our economy need more than a high speed line - they need a high speed network.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to build with HS2.

A network that not only links London and Birmingham.

But one that also speeds further north to Manchester and Leeds, and possibly to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

A network that not only opens up business opportunities at home.

But one that also opens up business opportunities abroad by ensuring passengers have an opportunity to connect up with the Channel Tunnel rail link (HS1) and Heathrow airport.

HS2 will, of course, give people much quicker journey times.

But it is so much more than simply a faster way to get from A to B.

Because HS2 also means more capacity and better connected cities and regions

Which, in turn, means that British businesses will be able to use it to exploit new markets, win new customers and attract new investment

HS2 will create and support tens of thousands of jobs and so help to power up the recovery and put people back to work

It will also help to deliver better life chances for millions of people by opening up access to employment opportunities and essential services like education and health.

There’s even a persuasive environmental case for HS2.

And that’s because it will offer people and businesses a high speed, low carbon alternative to short-haul flying and long-distance motoring.

It is no exaggeration to say that HS2 will transform the way we live and work every bit as much as it transforms the way we travel.

So make no mistake - the government’s commitment to this game-changing project is full on and flat out.


Let me now turn to the subject of airports.

Ever since the Wright Brothers defied gravity in a box-shaped biplane made of spruce and covered in cotton, air travel has shrunk our world.

But, in doing so, it has also broadened our horizons, personal and business.

So airports have a front and centre role in keeping our country prosperous, as well as keeping it connected.

And that’s why we’re working hard to make sure the aviation sector continues to be successful.

Take the Civil Aviation Bill, legislation that will improve the passenger experience by reforming the 25 year old set of regulations that currently govern our main airports.

We’ve consulted on our draft Aviation Policy Framework - a framework that forms the basis for future sustainable aviation growth in the UK.

And, to increase reliability and reduce delays, we’ve been trialling operational freedoms at Heathrow.

We’re thinking ahead too.

We need to make sure that the future of aviation in Britain is one where our airports are globally competitive and where you can connect to places all over the world.

And I’m not talking about the future as just the next 4 or 5 years, but in terms of the next 4 and 5 decades.

Aviation faces long-term challenges that require long-term solutions.

And lots of people and lots of organisations have ideas about what those solutions should look like including, I’m sure, many of you.

So we’ve asked Sir Howard Davies to chair an independent Airports’ Commission to explore the evidence, consider the options and make recommendations.

Sir Howard has now named the members of his commission.

Its terms of reference have been published.

The job of work is underway.

And so let me be clear.

The government is determined to build the consensus needed to deliver a lasting solution to this country’s aviation needs, and we believe that the Airports’ Commission is the way to do precisely that.

Now, if you take a look at this country’s major airports you will probably notice any number of things that mark them out and make them unique.

Look again though and you’ll also see there are 2 things they have in common.

First, they act as global gateways to new markets and new customers - which means they are not just national transport assets, they are national economic assets too.

But second, they’re set to become much easier places to get to and fly from.

And that’s because we’re making real and lasting improvements to those crucial connections between the train and the plane.

So let me highlight some of the key investments and modernisations:

  • electrification of the Midland Mainline improves access to Luton, while Valleys electrification improves access to Cardiff Airport
  • electrification and capacity enhancements between Leamington and Coventry enables more Crosscountry trains to run via Birmingham Airport
  • extra platform capacity at Redhill means more opportunity for Gatwick services
  • in Greater Manchester the Metrolink tram extension is due to open in 2016 and will take passengers from the city centre into Manchester Airport
  • as part of the Northern Hub improvements, there will be an extra platform at Manchester Airport, which will allow more and longer trains to serve the airport
  • investment in the Ordsall Chord and additional platforms at Piccadilly station means that trains from Bradford, Halifax and Rochdale will be able to get to Manchester Airport for the first time
  • a new £500 million rail link will give direct western access to Heathrow Airport and is expected to cut passenger journey times from the Thames Valley, the south-west, Wales and the west Midlands by around half an hour
  • once it’s completed, Crossrail will provide new services linking Heathrow with the West End, the City of London and Canary Wharf.
  • thanks to Thameslink, Gatwick will get new direct services to destinations north of London, such as Cambridge, Stevenage and Welwyn
  • and, not only will HS2 make it much easier for passengers from London and the south-east to get to Birmingham Airport… HS2 will also mean that people and businesses in the Midlands and the north of England get improved access to Heathrow

This is an impressive list of projects and programmes.

And, if you add it all up, what you get are train services that work for rail passengers and air passengers.

Concluding remarks

Okay - whenever I make a speech I’m always conscious of the words of President Bill Clinton who gave the following advice about public speaking:

if you can’t say what you want to say in 20 minutes or less, you should go away and write a book about it.

Well, I’m sure that lovers of literature everywhere will be greatly relieved to know that I have no plans whatsoever to be an author - which means it’s time for me to conclude my speech.

Before I finish up though there’s something I want you to know, and it’s this:

Connecting for growth isn’t just at the top of your priority list – it’s right at the heart of our transport policy.

Seamless air-rail journeys.

Better, faster, closer links between the station platform and the check-in desk.

That’s our vision, that’s our ambition and, step by step, that’s what we’re delivering.

Thank you.

Published 29 November 2012