National Infrastructure Commission
Good evening ladies and gentlemen
It would be no exaggeration to say that the railways of this country are crucial to its economic future. Just look at the millions of people who travel into our cities each day by rail. Without trains our economy would grind to a halt. And without our railways, they could not get to work in todays congested world.
And this is a brave new era for rail in Britain, and a comeback which surpasses most.
I have been travelling on our railways since I was 12, as a daily commuter for almost all that time.
Think back to what it was like then.
Tracks turned from double to single to save money. They even moved the rails so only one train could pass.
Do you remember that extraordinary plan to close Marylebone Station and turn it into an express coach route into central London.
When the railways were privatised in the mid-1990s they were on a firm downward spiral.
What a contrast to today.
In the 20 years since privatisation.
Passenger numbers have more than doubled.
Stations and lines are being opened.
Were having to put back the second track that British Rail ripped out on routes like the one to Corby.
And Marylebone Station is the terminus for one of the most innovative and successful rail lines in the country.
But success brings big problems and big challenges, and it is about those I want to talk tonight.
On much of the network our railway is operating on the edge of what it can cope with. It carries more passengers today than it did in the heyday of the 1920s, on a network a fraction of the size. If and when things go wrong, the impact can be widespread and quick.
And I get to hear about it.
And yet demand still goes up and up. For passengers and freight.
I travel on the line to Waterloo most days. Back in the 1990s around 110,000 passengers a day used Waterloo. Today the figure is nearly 240,000. The route is absolutely jammed with trains. Each day they line up to get into the stations on the route.
Next year we will introduce longer trains on the line, with a 30% addition to capacity. As we are doing elsewhere on the Northern Rail network for example.
Changes like that help. But they are not enough.
The industry cannot simply take comfort in its success in attracting the growth of the past 20 years. It already struggles to cope with demand and the margin for error is so slight that a small problem can lead to long delays, cancellations and overcrowding. The level of demand and the number of trains mean that things wear out quicker, and that there is less and less free time to do the repair works that the network needs.
Performance has been declining and on a day like today when commuters have been struggling to and from work this is not good enough. We have got to turn this around.
So our railways need to adapt and change in order to be able to cope with the growth that they have already experienced and that which lies ahead. We need a railway which is sustainable in all senses of the word.
And that means a series of changes to deliver the best possible passenger experience for the future.
It means continuing to deliver a steady programme of improvements and enhancements, large and small.
It means looking at new ways of expanding our system further and doing so in an innovative way.
It means harnessing new digital technology to transform the way our railways work.
And it means a change to the way the industry works in order to make sure it can meet the needs of passengers.
And that last point is crucially important. It was often said about British Rail that it seemed to operate as if it thought it was running a giant train set, and not a customer service business. Theres still a danger of that happening today. So lets be clear. Our railways are a customer service business, and they should always act as such.
So we have to expand and develop the network so we can meet demand and improve the passenger experience.
We are already delivering a massive range of improvements to our network.
350 million of enhancements to the suburban rail networks around Liverpool and Manchester
Electrification in the Midlands, on the Trans-Pennine route and the Great Western mainline.
Longer trains and platforms around London.
Faster services in East Anglia including new trains built by the great team at Bombardier in Derby.
A huge increase in commuter seats and capacity in London with Thameslink and particularly Crossrail
And theres more to come.
In the early part of next year, the first phase of construction of HS2 to Birmingham will begin, and I recently announced the governments preferred route for the further stages of that path to Manchester, Leeds and beyond.
Its been controversial, often because people dont understand why it is needed. Some people see it as speed alone whilst they are cramped for space on their commuter service. But the way we deal with an over-congested railway is to build more capacity.
Up to now our solution has been longer trains and longer platforms. Its about doing something bigger and bolder. Our railways are more diverse than almost anywhere in the world. Few countries try to run express trains, commuter trains, local trains and freight on the same tracks to such high intensity as the West Coast Main Line does.
If we want the growth to continue in the future, we have to ease some of that pressure. That means building a new line to complement the old. And if we are to build something new, why wouldnt we build the best, the newest, the worlds most advanced passenger railway. That is what HS2 will do, and it will deliver much more capacity, as well as better connections between the Midlands and the North. It will free up capacity on the West Coast mainline for more freight and commuter services. It will make a real difference.
HS2 is just one part of what we are planning for the future. Work is under way on the development of the best ways of delivering better, faster journeys across the Pennines, to support the Northern Powerhouse. We are starting development work on the Midlands Rail Hub. We need a programme of improvements on the Brighton main line. And we will make sure that we deliver proper resilience at Dawlish and on the main line to the south-west.
Its an extraordinary contrast to that situation 30 years ago.
We also need to use our railway as a driver for new economic growth.
With improved freight facilities and links to our ports and as facilitators of new economic and housing developments.
And in doing so, I plan some new departures to the way we run and finance the development of our railways.
Network Rail is a committed organisation with a fantastic safety record, the safest major railway network in Europe. But it has been too cumbersome, has not always been an unqualified success in delivering the upgrades our railways need; and does need to focus much more on passengers.
Network Rail needs to change, and its management want change to happen. Nicola Shaw, the Executive Director of the National Grid, looked at what needs to change earlier this year and made a series of recommendations. She said that we need to devolve route responsibility in Network Rail to the local management effectively creating a network of local businesses supported from the centre. Mark Carne has started this transformation, but there is more to do. It is one part of the change that is needed to create a more efficient and responsive railway.
But every monopoly needs competition. So I want to go 1 step further, and bring new skills into the challenge of upgrading our railways to test the ways we are doing things right now, and find ways of doing them better. I want to bring forward a new strategy for rail in due course, but I want to outline today some of my thinking.
Im going to start with what I believe to be one the most strategically important rail projects that can unlock housing and development.
The line from Oxford to Cambridge was closed in the 1960s, even though it escaped the Beeching axe. It was a decision we have lived to regret. It links 2 of the worlds most important university towns, the growth areas around Milton Keynes and Bedford, and the areas which house some of our most significant automotive technology businesses often built around Formula 1 racing. To put it bluntly it is one of our most important corridors. And it is not just me, the National Infrastructure Commission has said so too, identifying the need for tens of thousands of new homes in the area, and to design major new transport links with delivery of these homes and supporting those businesses in mind.
Most of the old route remains, partially derelict, in use in places, and the link is eminently reopenable. Despite millions of pounds of pre-funding, it is stuck in a long pipeline of Network Rail projects that are funded for some time in the next decade.
So I am going to do things differently, I want to go faster, I want to get going. I am going to establish East West Rail, which will become a new and separate organisation to Network Rail. In the short term it will get on with the task of accelerating the permissions needed to reopen the route. But its main task will