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Tue, 20 October 2020

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It is time for the Chancellor to speed up rail projects

It is time for the Chancellor to speed up rail projects

It is clear railway projects can play an essential part in the Government’s economic plans, especially in supporting the ‘green recovery’ it says it wants to see, says Darren Caplan | Credit: PA Images

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive | Railway Industry Association

4 min read Partner content

The Prime Minister wants a connected UK to drive economic growth in all parts of the country. So now, in the face of the coronavirus crisis, is the time for the Government to speed up rail projects.

At the end of June, the Prime Minister committed to a ‘New Deal’ for the UK, with a promise that the Government would ‘build, build, build’ its way out of the economic slowdown following the coronavirus outbreak.

Boris Johnson’s speech on 30 June set the right tone, and contained some positive news, including £5 billion for infrastructure schemes and that a new taskforce would be set up to accelerate infrastructure projects, known as Project SPEED.

However, despite the good intentions, the funding set out will have little impact on the UK’s transport network. On the rail front, there was only one project mentioned, a scheme to ease traffic at the Manchester Castlefield Corridor.

Many in the railway industry were disappointed that the speech did not contain more, and that the opportunity to deliver a new rail infrastructure revolution was missed.

It is worth repeating a key passage in the PM’s speech here: “I believe… a prosperous and united Kingdom must be a connected Kingdom, and that is why we are now accelerating projects from South West to the North East from Wales, to Scotland, to Northern Ireland…to drive economic growth in all parts of the country”.

Yet while the PM mentions an “infrastructure revolution” in his speech, the statement simply says, “we will carry out a study of all future road, rail, air and cross-sea links”.

Many in the railway industry were disappointed that the speech did not contain more, and that the opportunity to deliver a new rail infrastructure revolution was missed.

Not least because rail companies need to build up teams to work on these schemes, and if the Government does want the sector to get on with it, we need to know now.

It is clear railway projects can play an essential part in the Government’s economic plans, especially in supporting the ‘green recovery’ it says it wants to see.

This is especially true given that rail investment contributes to the three Gs: Growth, Geography and Green – all of which are priorities for this Government.

On Growth, rail projects generate significant investment, with every £1 spent on the rail network, £2.20 is generated in the wider economy.

The railway industry is not seeking money – it is simply urging the Government to ‘Speed Up Rail Enhancements’ on its existing projects list.

On Geography, rail projects support investment in all regions and nations of the UK, including areas of social deprivation where investment and regeneration is urgently needed – supporting the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. And rail investment is Green, with rail travel producing significantly lower carbon emissions than other forms of transport.

So that is why the Railway Industry Association, the UK-wide trade association representing those who build and maintain the railway system – both track and train – is calling on the Government to accelerate the pace at which it commissions and delivers railway projects.

The railway industry is not seeking money – it is simply urging the Government to ‘Speed Up Rail Enhancements’ on its existing projects list – 58 projects including schemes like the Transpennine Route Upgrade, East West Rail, and Western Rail Access to Heathrow – as per our open letter to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of his speech this week.

Speeding up these rail enhancement upgrades is directly within the Government’s power.

Each of the schemes would have a significant impact on the capacity and connectivity of the UK’s rail network, as well as nationally helping to support the 600,000 jobs and more than £36 billion in economic growth associated with the industry.

Alongside investment in major projects like HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, Midlands Rail Hub and Crossrail 2, speeding up the delivery of these rail enhancements would provide a real boost to UK plc, its economy and long-term connectivity.

If the Government is serious about a green economic recovery that benefits all areas and communities of the UK, it needs rail to play an integral role.

To reiterate, the Prime Minister has recently called for an infrastructure revolution and a connected United Kingdom “to drive economic growth in all parts of the country”.

We call on Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his speech on Wednesday to ‘Be SURE’ and Speed Up Rail Enhancements’.

You can find out more about the campaign here.

Read the most recent article written by Darren Caplan, Chief Executive - Rail industry is concerned that no accelerated rail infrastructure projects were mentioned by the Chancellor

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