I want to start by saying that this time things are different.
On Wednesday, the UK Government went for Plan B in an effort to stamp out the COVID-19 Omicron variant. With such lifestyle-altering announcements, it’s easy to have flashbacks to the full lockdown if you’re not careful. To spiralling passenger numbers, lower customer spending and a lot of time at home or wearing a mask… and standing an awkward amount of distance from people.
But, again, I say this time it is different.
We don’t have to look too far for this, and we don’t have to be medical experts either. Because the rail industry is doing its bit. It’s building a future; it’s stepping forward now to the point that there’s no turning back.
I present incontrovertible evidence that shows momentum has swung definitively towards success.
First, there’s the massive HS2 deal this week: Hitachi Rail and Alstom, in a joint venture, have signed a deal to build trains for the project, which will be both made and maintained in Britain. The deal, a series of contracts to build 54 trains, is worth an eye-watering £2 billion. And the JV estimates that it will support 2,500 jobs.
Try getting out of a £2 billion contract! The reality is HS2 in its current form will be finished, trains are being manufactured, and, consequently, money is being pumped into the industry and the wider economy. There is little to no room left for backpedalling or corner-cutting. Rail’s hat is in the ring as far as the Integrated Rail Plan’s vision for HS2 goes.
The Great British Railway’s (GBR’s) transition team is, in the meantime, thinking forward as well. So far forward, in fact, it is creating a plan for thirty years ahead. Once you are done reading this, I’d click here, because they want businesses to get involved.
And when you are done answering GBR’s call for evidence, I would help the Rail Supply Group. They are looking to refresh the Rail Sector Deal, which drives the way forward – industry and government working together – to deliver change in the sector.
GBR and the Rail Supply Group show that the future is where we are looking, and you are not a bystander; you are able to take part and help shape the things to come.
And the first tangible steps towards this brighter, greener future are already being taken. This week, a wealth of “firsts” point to a new, fully-engaged future for rail and its communities.
Louise Haigh, for example, stepped up to the dispatch box in her first major parliamentary appearance since becoming the shadow secretary of state for transport. Overlooked by many in media, it was quite a debate – both Haigh and secretary of state for transport Grant Shapps pulled few punches, and it was good to see we will continue to have people of steel conviction fighting it out on both sides of the commons floor.
Two more “firsts” were notably green. We have Transport for the North striving to create an above-and-beyond decarbonisation plan, the first plan of its kind, and we saw Govia Thameslink Railway set up a green-thinking cooperative unseen in the industry before.
The reality is rail is thinking big, and will continue to. It is looking forward, chin up, post lockdown. It never was knocked down last time restrictions were in place. It continued to care about the planet, it continued to create strong partnerships and, as you can see, has started to build even more amazing things than before. The future the industry has set in stone is exciting, it is progress.
It is, of course, a future you are part of and will continue to be.