Chris Grayling: I want passengers to see a revolution in their journeys
An independent, honest assessment of our railway can ensure the government and industry work more closely than ever before and bring passengers a better service, writes Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
Britain’s railways are one of our greatest institutions, forged by ingenuity, invention and investment.
Today’s expansion and improvement would have been unimaginable twenty years ago under British Rail. Nationalisation saw the network starved of investment, vital routes and stations closing, and passenger journeys falling by a third. The railways that our Victorian forefathers pioneered were in a truly sorry state.
Privatisation has helped to reverse that trend, doubling passenger numbers and drawing in billions of pounds of private investment to ensure passengers get the services they deserve.
Over the past ten years, £5.6bn of private funding has revitalised the railways, with £1.3bn spent in the last year alone on state-of-the-art spacious trains.
In Liverpool last week, I saw one of the 98 brand new Northern trains set to give passengers better, more comfortable journeys, as part of investment that will create room for 40,000 extra passengers on more than 2,000 extra services a week. We are delivering a new Intercity Express fleet, brand new Thameslink trains with fully accessible toilets, real-time service information and increased capacity, and soon the antiquated Pacer trains of the North will be a relic of the railways’ past, consigned to the museum where they belong.
This is only the start of the story. We are re-opening the routes that nationalisation condemned – like the Oxford to Cambridge line, wrongly closed in the era of Beeching cuts, while driving forward projects like HS2 – to create the future backbone of our rail network that will serve over 100 million passengers every year.
Across the network, £48bn is being spent to modernise, upgrade and improve signalling and vital infrastructure, with £500m being spent to regenerate stations into inclusive public spaces which are step-free, accessible and make our railway open to everyone.
Competition, record investment and ambitious action are delivering real benefits for passengers.
So why have a rail review?
Across the country, commuter routes are packed, with no space to increase capacity. As the aftermath of the May timetable changes showed, the margin for error is almost non-existent.
As the ORR’s interim report into the May timetable disruption showed, the rail industry is complex and multiple players can blur the lines of accountability. Any small slip or error can quickly escalate into unnecessary disruption and delays, that the industry in its current form isn’t well structured to grip.
I am convinced that this is the time for change. An independent, honest assessment of our railway can ensure the government and industry work more closely and collaboratively than ever before for one overarching aim – better passenger service.
The Rail Review will be public-facing, transparent and dedicated to building a network that puts its users first. Overseen by Keith Williams – formerly of British Airways and now Deputy Chairman at John Lewis Partnerships – it has a leader who brings real insight and experience to the role.
Having directed globally recognised businesses that put the workforce central to the success of their business, I am confident Keith will offer a compelling vision for the future. At a time when public confidence in our railways is low and too many regular users feel their services simply do not work for them, he is the right man to help put passengers back at the heart of our rail network.
Keith is backed by an expert panel of industry leaders, regional champions and passenger representatives, ready to share knowledge, interrogate the existing systems and structures and propose bold and ambitious reforms.
I expect recommendations to be brought before the House with a White Paper in 2019, and we will begin reforms the year after. I want passengers right across the country to see a revolution in their journeys.
I am one of those passengers; a rail commuter for over thirty-five years. I see the frustration and disappointment when things go wrong and am determined to drive forward change.
I am proud to be part of a government that is investing in our railways for the benefit of passengers - and to have launched a review that will rebuild trust, confidence and pride in one of our greatest institutions.
Chris Grayling is Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell and Secretary of State for Transport