Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak

Budget 2021: What does it mean for Britain's railways?

During his Autumn Budget speech and Spending Review Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak set out some of the Government’s plans for rail and transport spending.

In his speech delivered to Parliament Sunak announced his intention to provide £5.7bn to eight English city regions over the next five years to overhaul local transport networks.

This will be done through London-style integrated settlements.

Earlier in the week Sunak stated that Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, West Midlands, South Yorkshire, West of England, Tees Valley and Liverpool City Regions will all benefit from the Government’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda.

The funding will be broken down as follows:

  • Greater Manchester - £1.07bn
  • West Midlands - £1.05bn
  • West Yorkshire - £830m
  • Liverpool City Region - £710m
  • South Yorkshire - £570m
  • West of England - £540m
  • Tees Valley - £310m

However, the Chancellor’s Budget speech failed to touch on some key infrastructure projects such as Northern Powerhouse Rail and the Eastern Leg of HS2.

It is expected that the Government will address their infrastructure plans for the North and Midlands when they announce their Integrated Rail Plan.

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association (RIA) explained how the lack of clarity on rail spending from the Chancellor will frustrate rail industry leaders.

Mr Caplan said: “It is positive to see confirmation of what looks like an additional £1.5bn of funding for regional transport projects, including in rail.

“[However] this Budget appears to be a missed opportunity to unleash the potential of the railways in helping the country to build back better.”

In terms of environmental policy, the Chancellor gave no indication on how the Government intends to decarbonise Britain’s railways.

Mr Caplan said: “With COP26 just around the corner this would have been a good time to set out the Government’s plans to reach a net zero railway.

“Including a rolling programme of electrification and fleet orders of hydrogen and battery trains.

“These plans would have not just shown UK leadership in decarbonisation on a global stage but would also significantly boost green jobs and investment.”

RIA believe further clarification is needed from the Government’s plans for rail to help industry leaders.

Mr Caplan added: “There could also have been some clarification on areas like digital signalling, with 60% of traditional signalling needing replacing in the next 15 years.

“Our rail exporters need to know whether Tradeshow Access Programme budgets will be reinstated or replaced.

“[This is] so that they can play their part in helping the country deliver on Global Britain ambitions.

“It is clear that UK rail can play a leading role in the UK’s economic recovery.

To do this the railway industry really does need greater sight of, and input into, the Government’s investment plans.”

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