Chris Grayling: Our investment and reform will transform rail

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling during a recent visit to Leeds Bradford Airport.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling during a recent visit to Leeds Bradford Airport.
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AS Transport Secretary, I am proud to be part of a Government who finally, after 50 years of delay, got a Parliamentary majority in favour of expanding Heathrow Airport.

Our flagship airport is full, and there are airlines queuing up to fly from it. There are cities all round the UK which need to be better connected to the world.

We have some great airport success stories. Manchester. Belfast. Leeds Bradford. Newcastle. Edinburgh and Glasgow. Cardiff. And of course Birmingham. But we need a strong hub airport to succeed, and the vote in Parliament, with a majority of nearly 300, has set us on the path to delivering that expanded Heathrow.

Beyond Heathrow we have also given our regional airports freedom to expand as well.

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A year ago, I had just returned from Manchester Airport where I met the first flight bringing passengers back after the collapse of Monarch Airlines.

In the following days we brought back nearly 100,000 people. And when I say we, this was a huge team effort involving other UK airlines, the Civil Aviation Authority and ten Government departments.

We all worked together to get people home and I am proud of the swift response. It was a tribute to what this country can do in times of change. The loss of Monarch was a sad day. But our aviation sector continues to thrive.

The Monarch planes are now flying under different colours. The slots at the airports were snapped up quickly. And our aviation industry moved on to meet new challenges.

I am proud to live in a country where our industries and our businesses instinctively know how to adapt and grow following changes. That is what will happen to this country after Brexit, regardless of the outcome of negotiations. And those who say that Brexit will mean the planes stop flying are doomsayers who do not know what they are talking about.

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While our aviation sector has had a strong year, the same cannot be said of our railways. I have already apologised for the disruption caused by the failures in the introduction of the new timetable in May. It was unacceptable.

And I want to say now again how sorry I am that so many passengers had such a difficult time. For us as Conservatives it was particularly frustrating because the new timetable is part of a big investment programme in the railways, to deliver more trains and more seats for passengers in both the North and the South.

The chaos cannot and will not be allowed to happen again but it is clear that the system has greater challenges than a failed timetable introduction.

In the last 20 years. the railways have been through an extraordinary period of growth.

The number of trains and passengers travelling has doubled. Trains are packed. The network is creaking. Passengers experience too many things going wrong.

I can announce that we will introduce one-click compensation for delays and disruption.

But I want the railways to work better for customers. As Conservatives in Government, we are spending more on rail than any Government in modern times. New trains. Upgraded tracks. New routes. Across the North, in the South and in the Midlands.

But after a decade under Labour when things stood still, we have much ground to catch up. Do you know, they let a Northern rail franchise with no new investment at all? Our response. A Northern rail franchise which is replacing and refurbishing every single train. Where Labour fail – Conservatives deliver.

But I do not believe the industry is making the most of our investment. It’s clear that the way our railways are run no longer works when the system is under pressure.

Last year we started to evolve towards a more joined-up railway. One team running track and train. But that process of evolution is no longer enough.

That is why two weeks ago I announced an urgent review of the way our railways work for passengers, led by the former chief executive of British Airways, Keith Williams.

We need wholesale change, and I have asked Keith to set out the best way of delivering just that. And to do so quickly.

We will publish a White Paper on delivering a rail revolution for Britain next year, and we will begin work immediately to deliver a more passenger-focused railway.

But I have news for our opponents. This will not stop us from investing in our railways. And while there is much talk about trains and planes, it is what is happening on our roads that will make the biggest difference to you.

So we have launched the biggest roads upgrade programme for decades, investing every penny you pay in car tax back into improving the roads you drive on.

Chris Grayling is the Transport Secretary. This is an edited version of his party conference speech.