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Derailed: UK rail infrastructure moving backwards

17/09/2019

Britain has the oldest railway system in the world, and with passenger numbers almost doubling over the last 30 years, our ageing infrastructure is now bursting at the seams.

In August, it was announced that rail fares are increasing by up to 2.8% in the New Year. This means many customers will see an increase of more than £100 on the cost of their annual railcard. At the same time, delays and cancellations reached their worst level in nearly a decade last year, meaning that passengers are paying more, but receiving a lower quality service.

Our railways have a vital role to play in the national economy, enabling large numbers of people to move between home and work across the country. But its users are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the service they are receiving, with many calling for the re-nationalisation of the railways. A policy Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has long championed.

Failure to resolve the ongoing issues is pushing our rail system into a downward spiral of service reductions and job cuts, at a time when investment in sustainable transport is needed to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions.

Recent Conservative governments have tried to maintain that the privatisation of our railways has been successful and that all train services should be outsourced. But although annual investment is running at around four times the £1.6bn it averaged in the 1980s, the system is still faltering under the weight of demand.

I believe the answer is an overhaul of the UK rail system and a significant increase in investment.

Mark Robinson
Chief Executive, Scape Group

This will improve existing services and help to reverse decades of under-investment in rail connections across the North of England and the Midlands. Although consecutive governments have committed to such improvements, this month fresh data reignited fears that the construction sector is falling into recession – and HS2 could now be delayed by up to seven years.

The “infrastructure revolution” can’t wait. Stronger transport links between UK cities is vital for the nation to prosper. HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail have the potential to revitalise regional economic growth, improve productivity, boost jobs and skills and increase prosperity. The government must reinstate its commitment to the Northern Powerhouse and push ahead with plans as a priority.

It’s also important that, where appropriate, the government devolves accountability and responsibility to a local level. Scaling back central government control will put local communities back at the heart of decision-making on the services that affect their lives. By accelerating powers to devolved bodies such as Transport for the North and Transport for the South East, we could help achieve better outcomes for passengers and taxpayers alike.

The UK must do it all it can to remain competitive post-Brexit by encouraging people to live and work here, to maintain economic growth. The smooth running of our railways is a key piece of the puzzle but we cannot wait for Brexit uncertainty to die down.

A solid strategy and impactful investment are needed now so that we can get back on track.

Written by:

Mark Robinson

Group Chief Executive
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