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Government Accused Of Leading Railways To A "State Of Paralysis"

Kings Cross station (Alamy)

3 min read

Shadow rail minister Stephen Morgan has said railways are in a “state of paralysis,” and claimed that the sector has been subject to “tinkering and meddling” by government ministers.

Morgan told industry figures that the “chaos” in rail policy over HS2 has undermined investor confidence in the UK. But his counterpart in Government, Huw Merriman said that the UK has been able to make “the largest financial investment in the railway”, since the Conservatives came to power in 2010. 

Speaking at the 2024 George Bradshaw Address, Morgan, who has been in the position since September last year, pointed to a number of rail policies that have been subject to change since he got the job. 

The cancellation of the northern leg of HS2, Network North plans, a “screeching u-turn” on proposals to close ticket offices, have all hit the headlines in recent months. 

“It is abundantly clear to anyone watching that our railways are in a state of paralysis and in need of urgent fundamental reform,” Morgan said. 

“But instead they are subject to constant tinkering and meddling and interference by ministers and from Whitehall, leading to confusion, delays [...] and ultimately failure to deliver for passengers.” 

The government was criticised when they confirmed last autumn at Conservative Party conference that the HS2 project would be scrapped north of Birmingham, with Sunak saying that the money would be reinvested in other projects under the Network North programme. 

However, Network North was itself subsequently criticised when original plans appeared to contain plans that had already been announced. 

Morgan said the HS2 u-turn was a “shambles” and said the decision has been “deeply damaging to our railway industry and to investor confidence in the UK”. 

Morgan was speaking after Merriman had laid out how ministers believe the government has grown the railway since 2010, and how they have supported the industry through the pandemic as they look ahead to further planned reforms. 

Merriman said that the government is offering “a plan to harness the best of the private and public sector to build modern railways, which will be run by a private sector with a proven track record of growing passenger numbers and freight". 

“We will put decision making in the hands of Great British Rail to integrate track and train," he added. 

“We will not build an unaffordable state bureaucracy run for the benefit of vested interests and trade unions.” 

In December, Labour appointed former Siemens UK boss Jurgen Maier to lead a review into how the delivery of major rail projects could be improved. 

Speaking at the time, shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said that the party is “serious about learning the lessons from the staggering failure of the last decade”. 

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