Minister Twigg speaks to ASLEF about rail future

21 June 2006

When transport Minister Derek Twigg spoke to ASLEF's conference he confirmed his commitment to rail, expressed his respect for the skills of our drivers – but also took a step back from government involvement in the industry saying he ‘could not force change'

 

This is the text of the speech Derek made to the ASLEF 2006 AAD in Scarborough on 7 June:

 

 

1. Good afternoon. I am personally committed to the Railway. I use it every week to travel to London and use my local services. The railway today is increasingly reliable and popular and much of that is down to the hard work and dedication of the men and women who operate it. We should be proud of the improvements that have taken place on our railway.

 

2. To most passengers, the man or woman up front in the cab is an anonymous face. And most passengers will have no idea of the skills required by that person to deliver them safely to their destination.

 

3. Some of those skills were brought home to me when I visited the training centre at Selhurst. I had a go on the driving simulator - and proceeded to seriously overshoot the platform at Clapham Junction!

 

4. In contrast, during a cab ride on the Great Western I was impressed by the great skill of the driver who managed to time his approach to a red signal at the end of a platform so that his train didn't actually come to a halt in the station before the signal changed.

 

5. And I think few people have any understanding of how route knowledge, combined with the complexity of the machine being driven - and all the rules and regs governing operation and safety - are put seamlessly into practice day in day out by drivers.

 

6. In the last decade or so, we've seen an unprecedented level of activity in the rail industry. And I'd like to spend a moment taking stock of what's been achieved.

 

7. We all had to address the legacy issues arising from an ill conceived rail privatisation programme in the 1990s.

 

8. Further upheaval followed with Railtrack being put into administration.

 

9. There were the tragic events of Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield and Paddington to contend with.

 

10. And everyone knew that with the best will in the world, it would take time to address decades of chronic under investment.

 

11. However, we tackled the issues and now have a more robust structure for the railways than ever before.

 

12. The changes we have brought about are firmly built on the principle of a public private partnership.

 

13. Responsibility for setting the strategic direction of rail industry now rests with the Government.

 

14. We have clear agreements with each part of the industry.

 

15. We set levels of public expenditure.

 

16. We take decisions on what that money should buy.

 

17. And to make up for the decades of underinvestment, spending has doubled over the last few years.

 

18. Unprecedented amounts of money are being invested in the rail industry by Government along with significant private sector investment. Between 2004/5 and 2008/9, the Government will be spending over £23 billion on Britain's railway to make up for years of underinvestment. That is an average of £88 million per week.

 

19. This structure and level of investment has led to many achievements that we can all be proud of.

 

20. For a start, the rail industry delivered another record breaking year. Over one billion rail passenger journeys were completed in 2005 - the most since 1959 making it the fastest growing railway in Europe.

 

21. This increase has been matched with real improvements in performance and reliability.

 

22. Since Hatfield, punctuality has improved. The percentage of trains that arrive ‘on time' at their final destination has risen to over 86.4% (at end of March) surpassing our target of 85%.

 

23. With more realistic timetabling now in operation, on many lines over 90% of passenger trains are now running on time. We are seeing the best performance since 1999.

 

24. And let's not forget 40% of rolling stock has been replaced in the last ten years. New rolling stock is going into Trans Pennine Express and is also planned for South West Trains.

 

25. 4,000 new trains and carriages mean we now have one of the youngest rolling stock fleet in Europe.

 

26. And from the passenger's point of view, this is one very tangible piece of evidence of our record levels of investment, but also from your point of view talking to drivers this morning about the new TransPennine Express trains.

 

27. I'm also sure it's one of the reasons why customer satisfaction is now at an all time high. In spite of what some in the press might have us believe, people are telling us they like travelling by train.

 

28. National Passenger Survey figures showed overall satisfaction up. The percentage of passengers satisfied with the overall journey is at the highest level ever recorded by the national passenger survey. 80% were very or fairly satisfied with their overall journey.

 

29. We're now seeing the benefits of the £7.6 billion being spent on the West Coast Mainline. Since the first major stage was delivered we've seen faster and more frequent services with more to come in 2008/09.

 

30. In spite of it not being a purpose built high speed line, the project has delivered 125mile/h running.

 

31. And with the introduction of new timetables, business has been steadily increasing, with a growth rate in Summer 2005 of 30% compared with the previous year.

 

32. The Manchester/London transport corridor was once dominated by air. Today, the balance is 60/40in favour of rail.

 

33. The second section of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link is now 86% complete. Eurostar passengers will soon be using St Pancras along with those using the high speed domestic services.

 

34. And of course, a lot of people travelling to the Olympics will using the high speed Javelin shuttle service to Stratford.

 

35. We have also seen significant rail freight growth which is of benefit to the environment. We have seen 9.5% growth this year and 50% growth since 1996.

 

36. So, in contrast to some difficult times in the past, there's much to celebrate.

 

37. But one of the biggest mistakes of the initial rail privatisation was a failure to recognise the inherent expertise of the men and women who know and understood the job of running a railway safely and successfully.

 

38. A lot of that invaluable knowledge and experience was lost post privatisation.

 

39. But earlier this year I was pleased to be able to visit HMS Sultan in Fareham to see first hand Network Rail's apprenticeship scheme.

 

40. This year 250 17-19 year olds will train as qualified engineering technicians for Network Rail. And with the growing success of rail, they're certainly going to be needed. When I asked those young people why they had applied to come into the Rail Industry, they all said it was because it offered a long term career, again underlying the growing confidence in the future of rail.

 

41. Many of those technicians will of course play their part in keeping the network safe. And I'm pleased to say that the UK's railways have a maintained a good safety record.

 

42. In the past year we've seen a further reduction in SPADs. This is good news, but there cannot be any complacency. But this means level crossings now represent the biggest accident risk and it's something that rightly concerns your members. This is something your union has been campaigning on.

 

43. So I've been pleased to see Network Rail highlighting the dangers with their excellent TV and radio adverts aimed at road users.

 

44. And you'll be pleased to hear that the Road Safety Bill, which is now in Parliament, includes a provision to make it easier to install road traffic measures to control the behaviour of motorists at crossings.

 

These will include rumble strips to slow traffic,

  • building a central barrier in the road to stop vehicles driving around the barriers,
  • and increased use of cameras.
  • We've also committed to consult on increasing the penalties for offences at level crossings.

 

45. Of course, I am aware there are other issues of concern to your members – in particular the question of railway pensions.

 

46. Keith Normanhas already been to see me to discuss the issues. I have met the Rail Unions recently on two occasions to discuss your concerns.

 

47. I trust you will appreciate that the Government is not in a position to force any changes on either side. But I hope both sides will work constructively to find common ground. The Government is encouraging both unions and employers to work together.

 

48. And I was particularly pleased to learn of the proposal to establish a Commission that will bring the interested parties together to look at the future of the rail pension scheme.

 

49. Having acknowledged much has been achieved in recent years there are still real challenges in terms of capacity that need to be addressed and further improvements in performance that can be achieved. Some answers will be found in longer trains and platforms, better management and timetabling and in Route Utilisation Strategies.

 

50. We now need to set a strategic direction that will allow us shape the railway for generations to come.

 

51. It is our intention to publish a long term strategy for the railways alongside the High-Level Output Specification which will look at the five years April 2009-214.

 

52. The "HLOS" in the jargon is a very significant innovation. For the first time, Government will specify clearly what it expects from the railway. Not in detail, that will be for the industry to deliver, but it will set requirements for levels of performance, safety and reliability.

 

53. It will be set alongside a statement of funds available (SOFA) so that we are all clear about the level of funding Government will be committed to, and what it expects to buy in return for that money.

 

54. It's the first time in a long time that any government has taken a long term view of the future. The aim is to provide a clear sense of direction and continuity for the industry.

 

55. The strategy will have a number of themes.

  • Firstly, we need to set rail in the context of the transport and economic/regional development agenda
  • And with capacity expected to grow by about 30% over the next 10 years – we need to find ways of dealing with the levels of expected demand.
  • In addition, we need to assess the role of passengers and how their interests will develop – and we need to balance their interests with those of freight.
  • And of course, the strategy will also consider the effects of rail and other forms of transport on the environment. We are all aware of the environmental benefits of travelling by train and one of the fundamental aims of the High Speed Trains replacement project is to deliver an environmentally sustainable solution for rail.

 

56. With that level of commitment, railway staff can be certain of a sure future in their industry.

 

57. The people who work on the railway are it's greatest asset and rightly deserve more credit than they perhaps get.

 

58. And I want to take this opportunity to say that none of what has been achieved so far would have been possible without the involvement rail employees at all grades.

 

59. Your commitment and dedication, have made a significant and successful contribution to not only how people live and go about their business –

 

60. but to the economic well-being of our country as well.

 

61. Thank you.

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