Jonathan Miles, Editor of Open Access Government, explores some of the ambitious plans of the current Secretary of State for Transport in the UK, The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP when it comes to rail
This article will focus on the rail priorities of the current Secretary of State for Transport in the UK, The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP. Appointed on 24th July 2019, he previously served as Minister of State at the Department for International Development from May to November 2015. (1) This article will focus on some recent positive developments concerning rail, such as accessibility improvements at stations, a new direct Eurostar rail connection between London and Amsterdam, as well as bold plans to invest in the re-opening of closed routes and upgrading stations in the country.
Funding boost for accessibility improvements
A recent announcement from the UK’s Department for Transport concerned a £20 million government fund for accessibility improvements at 124 rail stations to benefit disabled passengers. On 26th February 2020, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps proclaimed this funding via the Access for All programme to incorporate accessible toilets and customer information screens, as well as new lifts.
Commenting on this announcement, following the launch of a new government campaign to improve the journey experience of disabled passengers on public transport, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “The ability to travel easily from A to B is an essential factor for our day to day lives – but is not the reality for everyone.
“I recognise that we have much more to do, which is why we’re making 124 train stations across the country more accessible – a key part of levelling-up access for disabled people to transport and opening up opportunities for all.
“This is just the start of a much more ambitious agenda. My goal is to go much further in the years ahead to help ensure that our country’s transport system becomes one of the most accessible in the world.” (2)
A new direct Eurostar connection between Amsterdam and London
In other rail news, a new direct Eurostar connection between Amsterdam and London was announced in early February 2020 to improve passenger journeys. The more efficient route means that passengers returning from Amsterdam or Rotterdam will not need to get off the train in Brussels to go through UK border controls. It is also better for the environment, as Eurostar predicts that their trains produce between 80 and 90% fewer emissions than an equivalent short-haul flight.
Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps said: “We’re continuing to invest in modern, efficient transport links with the continent so our businesses and tourism industry can flourish.
“The days of passengers being forced to decamp from the train at Brussels to file through passport control will soon be over, as we look forward to direct, return, high-speed services to Amsterdam and beyond.” (3)
Bold plans for rail transport in the UK
In a very significant rail policy development, we find out in late January 2020 that there are bold plans to invest in the re-opening of closed routes and upgrading stations in the UK. Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said that the Department for Transport is investing £1.5 million in a project to re-open the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line to passenger services that were closed as part of the Beeching cuts.
“In a very significant rail policy development, we find out in late January 2020 that there are bold plans to invest in the re-opening of closed routes and upgrading stations in the UK.
This funding places Northumberland County Council’s project at the front of a new UK-wide drive to re-open former rail routes, through a £500 million government fund that sets out to bring back the rail connections required to level up access to opportunity throughout the UK. The Transport Secretary provided his thoughts on this bold new ambition to restore the former glory of local railways and stations.
“Many communities still live with the scars that came from the closure of their local railway more than five decades ago. Today sees work begin to undo the damage of the Beeching cuts by restoring local railways and stations to their former glory.
“Investing in transport links is essential to levelling up access to opportunities across the country, ensuring our regions are better connected, local economies flourish and more than half a century of isolation is undone.” (4)
Levelling up infrastructure across the UK
These aforementioned examples show us that the UK Government is serious about investing in rail transport and looking ahead, we know that Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps wants 2020 to be a “year of action on the railways with the north sitting at the heart of the improvements.” While the focus is not just on the north, Grant Shapps says that the focus of the Department for Transport for rail, “is levelling up infrastructure across the country, ensuring passengers see the benefit of new trains, new stations and fairer fares.” (5)
https://www.gov.uk/government/people/grant-shapps https://www.gov.uk/government/news/rail-stations-across-great-britain-receive-20-million-funding-boost-for-accessibility-improvements https://www.gov.uk/government/news/transport-secretary-hails-new-horizons-for-rail-travel-across-europe https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-pledges-500-mil- lion-to-bring-back-historic-rail-lines-improving-connectivity-for-communities-across-the-country https://www.gov.uk/government/news/2020-vision-for-north-east-rail-network