Election 2019: What are party promises on Britain’s railways?



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4 minutes
Election 2019, image of a polling station.

It has been a week of promises and revelations with the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives releasing their manifesto spending pledges.

Here is what the three main parties are promising on our railways:

Northern Powerhouse Rail

The Conservative Party sort-of pledge to build Northern Powerhouse Rail, the planned network of rail links across the north, although the Tory manifesto commits to between Leeds and Manchester, before stating the government will then “focus on Liverpool, Tees Valley, Sheffield and Newcastle.”

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The Labour Party has committed to the entirety of Northern Powerhouse Rail – which Labours calls CrossRail for the North – as part of “improved connectivity across the north”.

The Liberal Democrats say in their manifesto that they fully support Northern Powerhouse Rail, but pledge to ensure tighter financial controls and more accountability to make sure major projects are “value for money and address problems with implementation”.


HS2 train decision delay
Photo: Siemens/PA

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour manifesto promises to complete the HS2 project, while working with local leaders and taking full account of environmental impacts of different route options.

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Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats fully supports the HS2 project with tighter financial controls and increased accountability, and promises to open HS2 as early as possible to meet decarbonisation goals while minimising the destruction of ancient woodlands and habitats.

Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party is the only candidate not to fully back the HS2 project. The manifesto says while HS2 is a “great ambition, it will now cost at least £81 billion and will not reach Leeds or Manchester until as late as 2040.”

Mr Johnson says the party will consider the findings of the Oakervee review into costs and timings of the project, and work with leaders to decide important outcomes.

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Electrification and reopening lines

The Railway Hub

The Lib Dems have promised to electrify Britain’s railways, and Labour have pledged to implement a full rolling programme of electrification.

The Tory manifesto doesn’t state a promise on electrifying lines, but the Conservatives are setting up a £500m fund to reopen some of the rail links closed by Dr Beeching more than 50 years ago. Half of this will come from cash already allocated to Network Rail for transport upgrades over the next five years.

The Labour Party promise to work with local communities to reopen branch lines, whilst the Lib Dems want to extend Britain’s rail network and “improve stations, reopen smaller stations and restore twin-track lines to major routes.”

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End of franchising?

Labour are going for a radical programme of nationalisation of rail, mail, water and broadband in this election as a major priority. The party would set up a new, publicly-owned company to run rail services and polling suggests re-nationalisation is a popular move.

Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t revealed how much this would cost upfront because the party believes that would open negotiations with companies – although that hasn’t stopped other parties from brandishing some very large figures.

Boris Johnson says he will end the franchise model and create “simpler, more effective rail system.” It is perhaps a holding position, but shows a step in a direction.

Jo Swinson says her party will “start a revolution in rail franchising” by opening up the bidding process to public sector companies, local or combined authorities, not-for-profits and mutuals as they believe they will offer better services than private companies.

Rail fares and public service

Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

The Tories are promising to extend contactless pay-as-you-go ticketing to 200 more stations in the South East.

Labour pledge to make fares simpler and more affordable, and want to improve accessibility for disabled people, ensure safe staffing levels and end driver-only operation.

The Lib Dems say they will freeze rail fares for commuters and season ticket holders for a parliament. The party also promise an extensive list of promises on customer-focused changes to rail services:

● Create a new Railways Agency to oversee the operations of the railway network, removing the Department for Transport from day-to-day decision-making.

● Be proactive in sanctioning and sacking train operators if they fail to provide a high-quality public service to their customers.

● Improve the experience of people who rely on the railways for work by investing in commuter routes and the integration of rail, bus and cycle routes.

● Fix the fares and ticketing system so that it provides better value for money.

● Improve disabled access to public transport via the Access for All programme.

Other rail-related promises…

The Conservatives say they will invest in the Midlands Rail Hub, strengthening rail links including those between Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, Coventry, Derby, Hereford and Worcester, as well as improving train lines to the South West and East Anglia.

Labour say they will promote rail freight use in order to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution.

The Liberal Democrats promise a £130 billion package of infrastructure investment which includes converting rail network to ultra-low-emission tech by 2035.


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