Speech: A new chapter for northern transport

Department For Transport

February 14
10:35 2020

Its great to join you all this morning and thank you to Transport Times for inviting me.

As we all know were in one of the worlds great cities.

This is a city of science, culture and history, business, enterprise and commerce.

A city of bars and nightclubs and music.

And of course world-beating sport is played here every week.

Its a bold city, its a booming city, its a brilliant city.

It encapsulates every bit of the vibrancy, the success and ambition of the north and its great cities.

And like everybody here today (12 February 2020) I am determined that Manchester and the rest of the north achieves even greater things still.

Good connections to Leeds and to other northern cities and towns are just as important I think as the all-important spinal connection down to London.

Thats why yesterday when we announced that not only would we go ahead with building HS2, but we would also fully integrate it with east-west connections of the Northern Powerhouse rail as well - brought together in a new masterplan called High Speed North.

Ill talk about that just a little bit later.

Today what I wanted to do is not just talk about those gleaming new trains and gleaming new stations which will eventually come.

Im going to talk about the buses, local trains, the bikes and crucial roads that link and connect people together.

And, Im not just going to talk about the big cities like Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Newcastle.

But I also want to talk about places like Fleetwood and Poulton in Lancashire, which I visited recently.

Their railway line there hacked away by the very brutal Beeching Cuts in the 60s.

Now it takes an hour and a half to travel just 18 miles to Preston by public transport. And an hour to cover 7 miles to Blackpool by bus.

I want to talk also about places like Ashington in Northumberland, that I visited recently - once a very busy pit town, served by trains on that Northumberland Line. Those passenger trains went years ago through the Beeching reversal. Were going to bring them back again. Such disconnection has increased isolation both within and between our communities, and its why this government is determined to ensure that no community is locked out of this countrys growth going forward.

Not just because we want to repay the trust of the millions of people across the north who voted for us at the last election.

But because levelling up infrastructure, opening up opportunity, and ensuring that no community is left behind, is our driving force for this government.

Weve got to transform our transport system in the here and now, from the bottom up, not just from the top down.

Of course weve got to focus on the big, national projects necessary for the UK to achieve its potential.

But in the same way we must also be unrelenting in improving local services too, that people living in towns and villages across the north use every single day.

People need to be confident, for example, that their bus to town really will arrive on time. Or arrive at all, if its the weekend or in the evenings.

And their train to work must be on time, and mustnt be cancelled or ridiculously overcrowded.

And yes, it should be clean as well.

And people should have confidence their roads wont be jammed with traffic, unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists.

Thats why this week, we did not just commit to High Speed North.

We also committed to transforming the system in which we are investing unprecedented sums in buses and bikes, bypasses and those Beeching Reversals I was referring to a moment ago.

And we are taking steps to improve train services on the Northern and Transpennine lines.


But I want to turn to yesterdays announcement on buses in particular.

Buses are our most popular form of transport in this country.

They carry an astronomical 4 billion people a year just in Britain. Not 4 billion different people - obviously lots of people taking journeys many times over - but it is extraordinary to think how important buses are.

Thats almost 3 times the number of people who travel by train and over 100 times the number of domestic air passengers.

But I know passengers in the north and in the rest of the country wonder why they have to wait half an hour and pay an arm and a leg to travel just a few stops and cant get anywhere often at weekends.

While Londoners enjoy a bus service that run every few minutes, often 24/7 and they pay about 1.50 to cross the entire capital city.

I think thats a fair question. And so does the Prime Minister, who you may know is very passionate about buses.

Were determined to give the north and the rest of the country the tools to replicate the capitals bus success.

Weve already handed local authorities new powers to work with operators to run services.

And last week we were announcing the detail of what was a 220 million package of a series of different ground-breaking projects. For example the superbus networks across the country, where passengers will benefit from London style cheaper fares and more efficient services.

Im convinced that if we have buses that you get on and are warm in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer, if they have got USB ports to charge your phone, wi-fi and 5G then people will use buses because they are just convenient. But theyve got to turn up and theyve got to be reliable.

But yesterday we went a lot further. That 220 million announcement is but a nothing compared with the5 billion for buses we have now launched to go alongside the HS2 announcement, for buses everywhere outside of London.

Its money that will make services much more frequent - just as they are in the capital - allowing people to turn up and go.

Its money that will make routes more efficient and better value - so buses also wont be snarled up in traffic because we give them more priority to sensibly plan routes.

And its money that will make buses greener, funding the roll out of something like 4,000 new zero carbon buses. Im particularly interested in those electric buses but also in hydrogen buses.

There is no other government that has invested on such a scale in recent times. Perhaps with the exception of whats going on in China.


Nor has any other government invested in the railways like this since Victorian times and perhaps ever.Were not only pumping 48 billion into this 5 year period on our railways thats just Network Rail, thats just the regular stuff if you like.

But were also taking really decisive action on our railways.

Lets talk about Northern for a moment if we can.

As you know, just last month I said it was time for this Northern service to be sorted out, and weve brought it back into the public sector at least for the time being.

Realistically its going to take time. Simply handing it to the operator of last resort is not going to resolve Northerns problems.

But I know that Robin Gisby and Richard George, who are heading up this public sector operator, are going to be wholly focused on delivering real and tangible changes, and Ive asked them to do it as quickly as possible, whilst understanding they wont be able to work overnight miracles.

And while theyre doing that we are of course working towards what I call the Williams world white paper, where Keith Williams has been working on those plans to dramatically improve services across the entire network. Im absolutely convinced that the level of fragmentation that exists in our railways at the moment, whilst successful in for example doubling the number of passengers, doubling the passenger miles and making our railways go through this extraordinary renaissance that we are seeing today, its just too damn complicated to run a railway with this level of capacity constraint because of all those extra services in the modern world.

And thats why what Keith Williams is doing is absolutely essential and Im looking forward to publishing that white paper before too long.

Now those of us who spent our formative years during the 1980s, will know it was a great time for music.

It was great time for fashion at least for some.

But Ill put it out there, I dont think it was a classic moment for train design in UK and particularly in the north of England.

I am of course talking about the pacers.

I would echo the Prime Minister in saying:

I like buses but not when theyre supposed to be trains.

And that of course is the pacer, they are finally coming off the network. Three of them have just gone to a variety of different charities - a mental health charity, a school, a library, so we can remember them and future generations can come and see what it was like when we ran buses on the rails. But I will be very pleased to see the back of those trains.

But I have to

Related Articles


  1. We don't have any comments for this article yet. Why not join in and start a discussion.

Write a Comment

Your name:
Your email:

Post my comment

Recent Comments

Follow Us on Twitter

Share This

Enjoyed this? Why not share it with others if you've found it useful by using one of the tools below: