Maggie Smith of the Rail Freight Group (RFG) takes a look at the post-election ministerial team at the Department for Transport (DfT) and urges the new government to get right behind rail freight – an essential element of rail’s soaraway success story.
The attitude of the Government to rail freight is obviously crucial to the rail freight industry, says Maggie Smith, RFG’s executive director. Like it or not, the government controls, or certainly influences, many aspects including investment in the infrastructure, our ability to compete with road on a level playing field and whether or not we continue to have an open, competitive private sector market.
Politicians have no problem remembering to promote better services for passengers, as many of them have constituents who are forceful in expressing their views about the service quality which the train operating companies and Network Rail provide.
We need to make sure that freight is not the poor relation in the rail discussion – and that politicians fully understand the benefits our members bring and the challenges we face. To this end, we welcome the stability of having the Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin reappointed as Secretary of State for Transport.
The DfT is renowned for a constantly changing Secretary of State – none of the last six stayed more than 18 months and many left within a year. So it is good to see that Patrick McLoughlin, who was appointed in September 2012, has been reappointed in this government.
There are also four Parliamentary Under Secretaries of State for Transport. The minister responsible for freight and logistics is Andrew Jones, MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough. He has an interest in the railways and also responsibility for the Northern Powerhouse which is important for freight.
Claire Perry, MP for Devizes, was appointed Under Secretary of State for Transport initially in July 2014 and in her reappointment is now the minister responsible for ‘rail major projects and growth’ as well as ‘rail infrastructure, safety and security’. She did not have the rail freight brief last time but has always been very supportive.
Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough & Whitby and an Under Secretary of State for Transport since October 2013, has significant experience in transport in the House of Commons and his responsibilities now include HS2, a project we fully support.
The fourth Under Secretary is Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon. His responsibilities include ‘skills and supply chain’ – both important aspects of our industry and its continued growth.
Every year in the UK, more than £30 billion worth of goods is moved by rail freight and our industry generates more than £1.5 billion in benefits for UK plc. We are asking the DfT team and all the MPs and Members of the House of Lords to recognise the commercial and environmental benefits of rail freight and to promote its use by:
• Encouraging continued Government investment in the rail network, including HS2, to provide capacity for freight growth
• Ensuring a level playing field with road freight in transport policy,
• Ensuring that the open, competitive, private sector rail freight market can thrive on the rail network,
• Recognising the benefits to business and supporting companies which want to use more rail freight, giving rail freight persistent and sustained support both in the constituency and in the house.