Posted 1 week ago
Connecting people: Grayling’s vision for the future of UK rail
Rail services that were lost as a result of the infamous Beeching and British Rail (BR) cuts of the 1960s and 70s could be restored in order to create jobs and growth, under a new plan entitled Connecting people: a strategic vision for rail drawn up by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.
The Beeching cuts, prompted by two reports by the then British Rail chairman, led to more than 4,000 miles of track being taken out of the network, because road transport was seen as a more efficient option for the future at the time.
The plan will consider reopening closed lines but will also identify brand new connections. For instance, the government has already confirmed its intention to reopen the railway line from Oxford to Cambridge.
Some of the other proposals currently in discussion as part of this new development programme include:
- Bristol to Portishead, and Bristol to Henbury;
- Connecting Exeter to Okehampton (routes previously closed by BR);
- Connecting Bere Alston to Tavistock (routes previously closed by BR);
- Various route options around Birmingham;
- Four new stations in the West Yorkshire area: Elland, Thorpe Park, White Rose and Leeds Bradford International Airport Parkway.
Chris Grayling said that all proposals would need to demonstrate a strong business case where they are seeking government funding, but that all would be considered on their merits.
Labour responded by pointing out that no additional monies had been pledged by the government for the plan, with a stark reminder that it had recently cancelled major rail upgrades, including the electrification of lines in the Midlands and Wales.
The government's primary vision for rail is reuniting track and train operations. Ownership of track and train will remain separate, but joint teams will work together. The railways were privatised in the 1990s, and since then, track and train have been owned and operated by different organisations.
Mr Grayling denied the plan would see the demise of Network Rail.
Speaking to Radio 4 he said: "We're not privatising Network Rail. Network Rail will remain in public ownership, but Network Rail is going to be devolved into a series of route businesses, it's not going to be one big central blob, it's going to be a series of locally-focused, or route-focused, operations around the country."
The thinking behind Mr Grayling's current plan lies within a pair of reports written in recent years: the McNulty and Shaw Reports. The McNulty Report examined the value for money of the UK rail network while the Shaw Report explored the future of Network Rail.
In Connecting people Mr Graying appears to be acting on several key recommendations of the reports. In 2011, Sir Roy McNulty identified that a greater alignment of the industry - uniting its track and train arms - was key to the success of UK rail. Last year, Nicola Shaw recommended a more devolved structure for Network Rail to ensure its longevity and cost-effectiveness.
The Transport Secretary said: "The last few years have seen massive growth on Britain's railways. This industry has reversed decades of decline under British Rail, delivered new investment and new trains, and doubled the number of passengers.
"Now we need to build on that success by building a new model for the 2020s and beyond, one more able to deal with the huge rise in passenger numbers and the challenges of an increasingly congested network."
Andy McDonald, Shadow Transport Secretary, dismissed the plan, branding it: “re-announcements and unfunded proposals.”
He added: “The Tories’ record is of delayed, downgraded and cancelled investment, huge disparities in regional transport spending and soaring fares that are pricing passengers off the railway.”
RMT General Secretary, Mick Cash, echoed the Shadow Transport Secretary's sentiments saying the move was 'just more broken promises' from the Conservatives.
Chief Executive for the Campaign for Better Transport, Stephen Joseph, said that looking to connect communities and support jobs and housing was a positive move, but that 'it is desperately difficult to reopen a rail line'.