2024 George Bradshaw Address ‘Election Special’ – summary

The Rail Minister and his Shadow Minister counterpart both outlined their visions for the future of Britain’s railways at the 2024 George Bradshaw address last night.

Huw Merriman MP, Minister of State for Rail and HS2, and Stephen Morgan MP, Shadow Minister of State for Rail, both gave keynote speeches at what was dubbed an ‘election special’ of the annual event. With an election due within the next year, the address deviated from its established format to give both main political parties an opportunity to have their say.

Both MPs stated there was an urgent need for rail reform, with Mr Merriman discussing the government’s draft Rail Reform Bill – which was published earlier the same day – and Mr Morgan outlining Labour’s proposal to bring the railways back into public ownership.

Here is a summary of the key points made by both parties:

Huw Merriman MP:

Mr Merriman began by highlighting the growth of Britain’s railways since privatisation, stating that passenger numbers had doubled under that system. He stated £100bn had been invested in the railways since 2010, helping to fund projects including rolling electrification and improvements to rolling stock.

He then added that since the onset of the COVID pandemic, an additional £42bn had been provided to keep the railways running, the equivalent of £1,500 per household. He said this level of support had continued despite revenue post-COVID being down 20%, but said that the government was committed to rail as “the railway is not just a green way to travel, it is a catalyst for economic growth and regeneration.”

Mr Merriman then outlined the government’s vision for rail reform and renewal, citing Rail Partners’ – the organisers of the event – new Manifesto for Rail, which sets out a five-point plan for politicians to create a thriving railway that works for both customers and taxpayers.

In response to the points, he highlighted: new passenger service contracts and increased access for open market operators; developments on ticketing including extensions of PAYG options; new freight paths to enable the government to reach its growth targets for rail freight; and major schemes such as HS2, electrification of the Midland Main Line, and the rail projects included in Network North (you can view our summary of those projects here).

Mr Merriman also spoke about the draft Rail Reform Bill, which he said would put decision-making in the hands of a new integrated rail body, Great British Railways, and would bring track and train together. He described the plan as combining the “best of the private and public sector for the best in a modern railway.”

He said the bill would provide the legislation to enable the transfer of powers from the Secretary of State to GBR, and that scrutiny would be led by the Transport Committee. He added that he hoped this scrutiny could happen by this summer, and that he would seek Royal Assent for the bill at the earliest opportunity, although this was unlikely to be before any general election.

Stephen Morgan MP:

Mr Morgan said he had been struck by the passion and dedication of those working in the rail industry since coming into post last September, and that the Labour party wanted to match the ambition of the sector.

He said that major reform within the railways was urgently needed, with the industry currently left in a “state of paralysis.” He said Labour had recently commissioned an independent review of transport infrastructure projects, as “chaos and confusion” over policy in this area was holding the sector back.

Mr Morgan said that in the six years since the Williams Review, little progress has been made, with costs for rail reform going up. He said that Labour would deliver a “unified rail network with passengers at its heart,” bringing the railways back into public ownership as current train operator contracts expire.

He said a new public body would run the railway as a “single guiding mind”, ending what he described as fragmentation, inefficiency, and waste within the current system.

Mr Morgan said he saw a role for the private sector in rail, but that his party would be guided by industry experts and successful examples from this country and elsewhere in Europe.

He said that were Labour to win the general election, they would seek to bring forward a Railway Act as soon as possible, adding that more details on their plans for rail reform would be forthcoming in a “few weeks.”