It’s good to be back with you at this ground.
This visit has become an annual highlight for me.
It’s the third year in a row I’ve addressed the forum.
A run like that is rare for a Transport Secretary.
Before my appointment in 2012, there had been 7 Transport Secretaries in 7 years.
When you are in charge of long-term infrastructure projects, change like that doesn’t always help.
Rail, in particular, needs the perspective that comes with experience.
So I am delighted to be back.
Yet there has been one change since I was last here.
And that’s to the forum itself.
No longer the Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum.
But now the East Midlands Rail Forum.
To me, that’s a statement of intent.
Since the forum was established in 1993 it has grown in numbers, stature and influence.
Now it’s the largest cluster of rail firms in the world
And the new name reflects the forum’s ambition as it increasingly represents firms across our whole region.
Growth in the East Midlands
In June, the Chancellor visited the premises of a member of this forum.
Garrandale – a great rail engineering firm.
In his speech then, he said that five years ago our country was on the brink.
We were borrowing £1 in every £4 that we spent.
Midlands businesses were going under at a rate of over a hundred every day.
And nearly half a million people in the Midlands were looking for work.
If we were to save our economy, we had to act.
And so we took some tough decisions.
We cut spending.
Cut corporation tax.
And cut red tape.
Five years on, our economy is growing strongly again, nationally and locally.
The East Midlands is now home to 20,000 more businesses than in 2010.
There are more people in work here than at any time since 1992.
And on Wednesday the Chancellor reported that the Midlands is creating jobs at a rate three times faster than London and the south east.
So our region is making great progress.
And one of the things giving this region its edge is its great concentration of rail expertise.
Rail supply firms in this region are benefiting as we put more money into our rail sector than at any time since the Victorian era.
Since the forum was established in 1993, passenger numbers have more than doubled.
Rail freight is up 75%.
The government is investing more than £38 billion in the rail network.
And following Wednesday’s spending review transport capital spending in this Parliament will increase by 50% to a total of £61 billion; the biggest increase in a generation.
That’s a great settlement for transport.
And it’s a great opportunity for the rail supply chain.
But after so many years in which rail was underfunded, investment on this scale was never going to be easy.
In June, I announced that Network Rail’s performance on the electrification of the TransPennine and Midland Main Lines had not been good enough.
I asked Sir Peter Hendy to review Network Rail’s programme of works.
And alongside the spending review, Sir Peter set out his plans to put its programme back on track.
I can say today that I have accepted Sir Peter’s plan.
It reaffirms our commitment to our railways.
And shows how we will achieve our aim of transforming rail journeys for passengers.
So we are pressing ahead with Crossrail.
New InterCity Express trains on the East Coast and Great Western mainlines.
North West and Yorkshire train lengthening.
Wessex and Waterloo capacity enhancements.
West Anglia main line capacity improvements.
And the electrification and enhancement of the Great Western, Northern Hub, TransPennine, and Midland main lines.
No infrastructure projects have been cancelled.
But the report shows that the need for tough decisions is not yet over.
Some projects will take longer and cost more than originally planned.
As we put Network Rail’s focus firmly on its core task of delivery, some of that extra cost will be covered by Network Rail asset sales and new efficiencies.
But innovation and efficiency isn’t the only challenge for the rail supply chain.
We are also facing a shortage of skills.
Our country needs more rail workers of all kinds.
More civil engineers.
And even drivers.
In all, we need 10,000 new engineers to improve the existing network, while HS2 alone will create 25,000 jobs during construction and 3000 jobs in operation.
Yet as things stand today, parts of the industry will lose half their staff to retirement within 15 years.
With our plans for investment, that’s unsustainable.
So the government is addressing this skills challenge through new training institutions, such as the flagship National Training Academy for Rail in Northampton.
Through creating 3 million new apprentices in this Parliament.
And through the appointment of Terry Morgan, the Chairman of Crossrail, to develop a transport skills strategy.
But, ultimately, we need the rail industry to invest in skills in new staff and new training.
Because although government can make plans and provide some of the funding, it will be the rail industry who will deliver for the country.
Midlands Engine for Growth
But while we are working to secure our economy and to transform our transport we have a clear principle.
Wherever possible, decisions about planning, spending and services should be taken by the people who will be most affected by those decisions.
For that, we need to devolve power from London and out to the regions.
So last month I was pleased by the launch of the newly-strengthened Midlands Connect Partnership
Midlands Connect is a collaboration between the Midlands’ Local Enterprise Partnerships and local authorities.
Over the months ahead Midlands Connect will work with HS2 Ltd, with Network Rail, and with Highways England to develop investment plans for the Midlands.
They will look at maximising the economic growth from HS2, reducing journey times between our towns and cities, and making better connections to international gateways.
There’s no better way to make the case for investment than for it to be informed by local people.
And that is how we will make the Midlands an engine for growth.
So in conclusion, it’s great to be back.
As Transport Secretary.
At this event.
And on home turf.
For our nation’s railways, these are rare days.
Customer numbers have never been higher.
Investment has never been higher.
Expectations have never been higher.
And so it’s an opportunity.
But also a challenge.
I said at the beginning that rail needs the perspective that comes with experience.
Looking around this room I can see 176 years of rail experience and the expertise to match.
So I’m confident that we will succeed as we build the rail network our country deserves.