Rishi Sunak budget 2021 (Photo: HM Treasury)

UK: Organisations from across the rail industry have responded to the budget presented by Chancellor the Exchequer Rishi Sunak on March 3, with funding for investment welcomed but criticism of missed opportunities for the sector.

Key announcements included £30m for the Global Centre of Rail Excellence R&D facility in Wales, £59m for new stations in the West Midlands and £40m to reinstate passenger services on the Okehampton – Exeter line.


Andy Bagnall, Director General of the Rail Delivery Group, said ‘the investment set out in the budget means the railway is on track to support job creation and bring people together’, and would build on ‘the continued delivery of improvements during the pandemic’. He said ‘investment in new free ports, and the transport links to them, allows rail freight companies to increasingly support British businesses and future trade opportunities.’

RDG said the increase in the contactless payment limit from £45 to £100 offered the potential for its wider use for rail travel, and called for the broader adoption of single-leg pricing to facilitate this.

Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association Darren Caplan welcomed the establishment of a UK Infrastructure Bank, the £4·8bn Levelling Up fund for infrastructure and the Centre for Rail Excellence, saying ‘we would hope that all rail businesses — whether related to rolling stock or infrastructure, and whether large or SME — benefit in some way from these announcements.’

Noting that the Chancellor has said ‘for business, certainty matters’, Caplan pointed out it was 500 days since the Rail Network Enhancement Pipeline was last published, and RIA ‘would once again urge the government to provide the rail sector with visibility of upcoming rail schemes’.

He explained that ‘this is not about seeking more budget; rail suppliers simply need the updated pipeline of rail upgrades to be published, along with the Integrated Rail Plan and the Transport Decarbonisation Plan, to help them build up capabilities and skills, and ultimately support jobs and investment at what is a very difficult time’.

Moseley station

The budget included £59m for the future stations at Darlaston and Willenhall on the Wolverhampton to Walsall route and for Moseley, Kings Heath and Hazelwell stations on the Camp Hill line near Birmingham. The two Black Country stations are now fully funded, with the remaining funding for the other three expected to be confirmed later this month.

The government will also provide £50m to develop proposals for transport improvements around the High Speed 2 Birmingham Interchange Station.

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said ‘I am particularly pleased to see our asks for the West Midlands responded to so well, with significant cash for reopening old railway stations and lines, reviving town and city centres, and making the most of HS2.’

gb GTR Class 377s at Selhurst Depot

Katy Taylor, Chief Strategy & Customer Officer at The Go-Ahead Group, said ‘policies to reduce emissions by encouraging people to leave their cars at home in favour of walking, cycling or public transport would have been welcome’, suggesting workplace parking levies, a scrappage scheme for second cars or mobility credits. ‘In the long term, rather than adjusting rates of fuel duty, it is surely time to consider a broader road pricing scheme which will encourage people to think harder about the social and environmental cost of private car usage’, she suggested.

Go-Ahead welcomed the government’s enhanced support for older apprenticeships, saying ’we welcome people of all ages and backgrounds who want to learn how to drive, or maintain, buses and trains’.

GB Railfreight container train

John Smith, Managing Director of GB Railfreight, said ‘given the huge advantages that shifting freight from road to rail offers in terms of reduced emissions, this budget is a missed opportunity to do more to support this shift through an increase in the current Mode Shift Revenue Support scheme. We eagerly await the publication of the government’s Integrated Rail Plan, which we hope will be published shortly.’

Midlands Connect director Maria Machancoses welcomed as ‘fantastic news’ the confirmation of East Midlands Airport as the location for one of eight UK Freeports, in addition to Humber Freeport, which covers Immingham Port in Lincolnshire. ‘We will now work in earnest with local authorities to make sure these site are well-connected, and that businesses have the road and rail infrastructure needed to trade with local, national and international partners.’