Palace of Westminster from the river

UK: Organisations from across the rail industry have responded to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review speech on November 25.

Railway Industry Association Chief Executive Darren Caplan said ‘it is positive to see the continued commitment by government to transport infrastructure, with the announcement today of a new infrastructure bank, the publication of a National Infrastructure Strategy, the commitment to publish an updated infrastructure pipeline, and a £4bn fund for local improvements. In the coming years, investing in rail will be vital and, as outlined in our recently published 10 Reasons to Invest report, we should be confident that following the coronavirus pandemic, passenger and freight numbers will return to the network.

‘We look forward to seeing the National Infrastructure Commission’s Integrated Rail Plan on HS2, Northern Powerhouse Rail, Trans Pennine Route Upgrade and Midlands Rail Hub, and the outcomes of the Williams Review into the structure of the industry. In this time of such uncertainty, clarity and visibility from government is essential, so publishing these plans and updates on key projects will ensure the rail industry is able to prepare and deliver.’

However, Caplan said RIA members ‘will be concerned that the Spending Review did not provide an update on specific rail schemes, particularly those in the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline.’ He said there were ‘supposedly around 80 schemes on this list’, but ‘we are still no nearer knowing which ones are to be progressed’.

Robert Nisbet, Director of Nations & Regions at the Rail Delivery Group, said ‘given the crucial role the railways will play in the economic recovery next year, continued investment to keep services running is crucial so the network is ready when passengers return. Equally vital is funding to deliver the improvements that will improve journeys for passengers and support economic regrowth in communities across the country.’

Barry White, Chief Executive of Transport for the North, said ‘the government pledged an infrastructure revolution, and it’s really promising to see some progress on that coming to fruition over the next year.

‘Commitments to creating a UK Infrastructure Bank to be headquartered in the north, spending on rail upgrades and major roads, as well as confirmation of an electric vehicle cash injection, all signal progress in helping build back better and greener.’

However, White cautioned that ‘we need to avoid a situation where communities are stuck in a bidding cycle of competition for investment, with decisions still being made by Whitehall rather than locally’, adding ‘the projects outlined are a good start, but there’s a lot of detail on rail in the north still to come with the forthcoming Integrated Rail Plan, which we await with interest.’

Maria Machancoses, director of Midlands Connect, said ‘now is the perfect time to invest in our roads, railways and the green technology central to our carbon-neutral future. We’re committed to working with our partners and government to ensure the improvements mentioned are implemented as soon as possible, and to ensure we secure the best possible transport deal for the Midlands.’

Nick Baveystock, Director General of the Institution of Civil Engineers, said ‘an infrastructure strategy gives clarity on the direction of travel for investment, and an infrastructure bank will help lower the cost of greener technologies and projects needed to ramp up decarbonisation’. He added that ‘we need joined-up plans to achieve real change, for example to ensure polluting forms of transport get phased out as greener sources of electricity come online’.

Labour’s shadow Rail Minister Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi said the Spending Review was ‘a missed opportunity to deliver public owned rail network the country deserves.’

TSSA trade union General Secretary Manuel Cortes said the Review ’was a moment to unleash the green economic revolution, but Sunak failed. Instead of grasping the nettle and resetting our country on an economic course based around green jobs and investment — we had barely a mention on the climate crisis we face. The Tories have now abandoned all pretence of ambition over decarbonisation when the climate emergency is all too real.’

General Secretary of the RMT trade union Mick Cash said ‘it is shameful that the government is employing a policy of divide and rule of private and public key workers, all of whom have risked their lives during the pandemic. RMT will have no hesitation in taking strike action to deliver our members the pay rise they deserve and in supporting national co-ordinated action to deliver pay justice for all key workers.’