The Institute took its Vision 2035 debate to the Labour Party Conference in Manchester this week, where expert panellists discussed the future of our railways. Panellists each offered their visions for the future of the UK’s railways to a packed audience of politicians, industry experts and Labour party members.
Lilian Greenwood MP kicked off the discussion with the topic of devolution, Lilian stated that ‘all parties are in favour of devolution’. She continued to tell the audience that devolution is an important part of Labour’s manifesto and that Labour wish to give communities more of a say in the bus and rail services they use. Lilian expressed: ‘Local transport authorities are the best people to deliver integration.’
Lilian went on to state that Labour would reform the 1993 Railways Act, which prevents a public sector railway operator from bidding for railway contracts. Lilian commented: ‘It is complete nonsense that the Railways of France, Germany and the Netherlands can all bid here in the UK but the successful British Rail Operator is barred.’ Highlighting the success of state-owned East Coast Main Line, with high customer satisfaction scores and a £200m return to the tax payer, Lilian argued these achievements cannot be ignored.
The complexities of the current ticketing structure were also discussed by Lilian, stating: ‘The current structure is too complex and often appears illogical’. Commenting on the success of smart ticketing in London; Lilian recommended taking advantage of this technology across the UK to continue to attract more people onto the railways.
Lilian concluded her five-minute vision by discussing accessibility and diversity. ‘We want a railway that’s more accessible and more representative of the people who use it’ argued Lilian. She pointed out that though some progress has been made there is a long way to go. Lilian expressed the need for greater representation of women across the railway industry, as engineers, directors and drivers.
Lilian spoke positively of the current railway sector, and though she expressed the need for structural change and development she commented that it’s a great time to be involved with the railways. In all conversations we are talking about growth, which is a great place to be.
Councillor James Lewis expressed his vision for the future of the UK’s railways. He commented on the opportunities post Scottish referendum for devolution to be at the centre of the political debate. For James, one of the main issues about rail policy and rail franchising is better local accountability and better local influence over how decisions about railway operations and investment are structured.
Christian Wolmar, Transport Author and London Mayoral candidate, added to the debate expressing that there is a lot of resentment from the North of England about the current rail developments taking place in London. Christian stated that people in the North are asking ‘What about us?’, and justifiably, Christian claims. He argued that one of the key focuses on the next developments in the railway has to be the North. Christian was critical of HS2 and expressed his opposition to the proposed HS2 railway, stating: ‘HS2 is a railway you just wouldn’t design if you were an operator and had any understanding of what rail passengers need.’