As Minister of State for Transport (responsible for rail, cycling and walking), I am proud that the UK is leading the way on sustainable, accessible, and pioneering transport networks. This has been a challenging year for the rail industry, with passenger number dropping more than 90% in the first lockdown. But I am proud that due to a collaborative and resilient industry, the sector has emerged from this tough year even stronger.
I proud to have launched the following initiatives since being appointed Minister for Transport:
- Access for All Programme: Trains and stations are now more accessible, thanks to the Department for Transport’s ‘Access for All programme’, which has enabled 75% of rail journeys to travel through stations with step-free access. The Department has invested £20 million to fund new lifts, accessible toilets and customer information screens to improve public transport for disabled passengers. I am determined to go even further in the years ahead to help ensure that our country’s transport system becomes one of the most accessible in the world.
- Veterans Railcard: I am proud to have launched the Veterans Railcard, giving 830,000 veterans 1/3rd off rail fares to help reconnect them to loved ones and access new training and work opportunities. After all the sacrifices made by veterans to serve our country, I believe it is only right that we continue to show how much we value their efforts once they leave the armed forces too.
- Restoring Your Railway: I am determined to improve connectivity to cut-off communities across the UK by building back vital connections. The Department is investing £500 million to redevelop historic stations and restore passenger services that were closed during the 1960s Beeching cuts. From restoring historic stations at Ferryhill and Langport, to reinstating passenger services on the Maid Marian Line and transforming rail connections around Bolton, Bury and Consett, our investment will provide the vital links that people depend on, reinvigorate local economies and level up opportunity across the country.
- Project Speed: I am proud to launch Project SPEED, a pioneering plan to half the time and reduce the costs of delivering infrastructure projects, through using innovative construction methods and removing the red rape and complexity from the planning process. I intend for rail to be bold and radical in its thinking, leading the way as the country builds back better out of coronavirus.
- Decarbonising Rail: The Government has committed to investing £589 million into the electrification of rail on the Transpennine main line between Leeds, Huddersfield and Manchester. This is part of the Department’s overall commitment to decarbonising rail through an array of innovative projects including hydrogen trains, sound-bending walls in urban areas, and hydrogen-based steam turbines to drive zero-emission, low-noise rail freight. I am excited to welcome even more cutting-edge ideas to transform the future of railways, through the 2021 First of a Kind (FOAK) competition which offers shares of a £9 million prize to rail ideas of the future.
- Mental Health and Rail: I recognise that the rate of suicide in the rail workforce is 1.6 times higher than the UK average, therefore I am dedicated to improving the mental health support for everybody in the rail industry. I am proud that the industry is collaborating with Samaritans, who have trained more than 20,000 railway employees in suicide prevention techniques. Hundreds of rail industry employees have donated their time to the Million Hours Challenge to support the Samaritans, whose Small Talk Saves Lives campaign has been running successfully since 2017, a new rail suicide prevention website has also recently launched. You can read my article on this in the attachment below...
Walking and Cycling
I want to make cycling and walking the natural choice for shorter journeys, and the benefits of this are substantial. For people, it means cheaper travel, better health and a safer transport alternative during the pandemic. For businesses, it means increased productivity and increased footfall in shops. And for society as a whole it means lower congestion, better air quality, and vibrant, attractive places and communities.
Since becoming Minister for Transport, I am proud to have overseen the launch of the Gear Change: a bold vision for cycling and walking white paper, with £2 billion investment in cycling and walking, the biggest increase in dedicated funding that this country has ever seen.
The Department is working with local authorities across the country to introduce thousands of miles of protected bike lanes, so anyone can ride safely; low-traffic neighbourhoods, to stop rat-running and make it easier to walk and cycle; bus and bike corridors on some main roads; and funding for a massive rise in e-bikes, all of which will open up cycling to more people and make travel better for everyone. To make cycling more accessible, we have also introduced vouchers to pay for bike maintenance, and free cycling training for anyone who wants it.
The second Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS 2) will be published later this year, after the Government has agreed and set out its long-term spending plans for active travel at the next multi-year Spending Review. This will reflect on the ambitions set out in the Gear Change, and set out financial resources available for cycling, walking and the other matters required by the Infrastructure Act 2015.
I look forward to seeing these plans materialise as our towns and cities become safer, greener, and healthier places to live.
In the past year, the Department for Transport has injected £1.3 million into Northamptonshire, to go towards cycling and walking. This will fund new cycle lanes, and temporary traffic measures to prioritise cyclists and pedestrians on the London Road in Daventry, encouraging safer alternatives to public transport, and the long-term legacy of active travel.