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DfT offers £280m more to increase capacity of bus, tram and light rail services

Coronavirus: Government commits to reversing some Beeching cuts on rail and new road schemes as part of pandemic recovery

Mark Moran
24 May 2020
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps


Over £280m of further funding for transport has been announced by the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. The funding comprises £254m for buses and £29m for trams and light rail. It is designed to help protect and ensure there are enough services for people who need to travel, provide space for them to observe social distancing guidelines.

Transport Secretary and Minister for the Northern Powerhouse Grant Shapps said funding will be kept under review to ensure that full services can be up and running as quickly as possible. He also flagged up a commitment to longer term investment in transport infrastructure to aid post-pandemic recovery.

Leading the 10 Downing Street COVID-19 briefing on 23 May, Shapps said: “From NHS staff to transport and shop workers, teachers, volunteers and all those staying at home, people across the country are all sharing the same public-spirited approach to tackling the spread of this virus and keeping others safe.

“To make sure people can travel safely when they need to, we are increasing capacity on buses and light rail, as well as helping local authorities fast-track plans to support cyclists and pedestrians, further reducing pressure on our transport network.

“These measures help keep passengers safe now, but we must also prepare for what comes next. Strengthening vital road and railway connections, as well as encouraging cycling and walking, will be essential to our ambition to level up the country, secure a green legacy, and kickstart regional economies, as we build out of COVID-19 and look to the future.”

In addition to the funding, 3,400 people including British Transport Police officers, Network Rail and train operator staff have been deployed at stations to advise passengers and make sure people can follow the guidance put in place. From 1 June 2020 at the earliest, twice that many will start to be deployed with the assistance of groups like the charity Volunteering Matters.

“We’re managing the transport network to make it as safe as possible,” said Shapps. This week saw the deployment of nearly 3,500 British Transport Police, Network Rail and Transport for London employees. These marshals worked with the public to prevent services from becoming overcrowded.

“From 1 June at the earliest – as we move to Phase 2 of the unlock – we will start to deploy twice as many marshals with the assistance of groups like the charity – Volunteering Matters. These Journey Makers will help provide reassurance, advice and friendly assistance to commuters. The last time we did this, at the 2012 Olympics, it was a great success.

While these are altogether more serious times – if we show the same public-spirited concern for one another, it will go a long way towards helping transport and passengers cope.”

Rail passengers will also now benefit from a personalised information service to help them stagger their journeys. Passenger Connect from British tech start-up ZipAbout will tell passengers how disruption and crowding may affect their journey, providing alternatives and helping people maintain social distancing when they need to travel. The service has been successfully piloted by National Rail over the last 12 months and can now support millions of rail users with personalised updates to keep them on the move.

“It’s essential we stagger journeys and avoid the rush-hour. That’s why, at a recent roundtable, we asked the tech sector to come up with innovative proposals to help passengers avoid congestion. One good example is ‘Passenger Connect’ from Birmingham start-up ZipAbout.

“A personalised information service which tells rail users how disruption and crowding may affect their journey, while providing alternatives and helping people to maintain social distancing. The service has been successfully piloted over the past 12 months and it will be rolled out soon.”

To make it easier for people to choose alternatives to public transport, a series of measures are being rolled out to encourage more people to cycle instead, including:

  • allocating local authorities a share of £225m, announced earlier this month, to create pop up and permanent cycle lanes and reallocate road space
  • amending laws to reduce red tape and halve the time it takes for councils to get these schemes up and running
  • committing £25m from the emergency active travel fund to help people get their bikes repaired so that they can get back to cycling
  • investing £2.5m to provide 1,180 cycle parking spaces at 30 railway stations across England to help encourage people to incorporate cycling as part of a longer journey.

The Government is also working with local authorities and private car park owners to make it easier for people commuting by car to get closer to their place of work and finish their journey on foot or by bike without the need to take public transport. Plans will focus on developing new schemes at car parks near, but not in, city centres from where drivers could collect a bike – or use their own - and follow new cycling or walking routes which would be colour coded by distance.

“For those who live too far to cycle and walk, and must drive to major conurbations, we will repurpose parking in places just outside town centres, so people can park on the outskirts and finish their journeys on foot or bike or even e-scooter. Our aim with many of these measures is not merely to get through the lifting of restrictions, and then return to how things were. But to come out of this recovery stronger, by permanently changing the way we use transport.”

Looking to the future, the Transport Secretary has also laid out further plans to transform the country’s transport infrastructure to help the country ‘build out’ of COVID-19, supporting the nation’s economy, and delivering on the government’s key agenda of levelling up the country.

“We’re not just dealing with the immense challenges of the present. We’re building for the future too. Transport is not just about how we get from place to place. It also shapes the places; for good or bad. Towns. Cities. Whole nations. We now have an opportunity to use the power of transport to improve long-standing national weaknesses, and create something better.

“The UKs unbalanced economy is one such weakness. Our mission is to level-up Britain. The COVID-19 outbreak must be the catalyst to get it done. Levelling up. And speeding up. So, while roads and railways are less busy, we’re accelerating vital projects.”

Shapps has committed to invest in regional rail services. Ten bids have also been announced to receive a share of a £500,000 Restoring Your Railway ‘Ideas Fund’ to develop proposals to build or reopen railway lines and stations, including those closed following the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.

“We’re getting on with plans to reverse some of the so-called Beeching rail cuts too. Dr Beeching wrote a report back in the 1960s which led to the closure of one-third of our railway network – 2,363 stations, 5,000 miles of track identified for closure. Many of the places removed from the map never recovered. That report was perhaps the origin of the ‘left-behind town’.

“But we’re working to reverse Beeching. The process has already started in Blyth in the North East and Fleetwood in the North West. I visited in January, and also took the opportunity to visit Horden Peter Lee to see the building work. There used to be a train station 200 yards away, but it was closed, and the town cut off by the Beeching axe. This new station will connect a community of over 50,000 people, improving their quality of life.”

MPs and local authorities were invited to bid for a share of the fund to help reconnect communities across the country, levelling up opportunities for people in isolated areas by increasing their access to jobs and training which will be crucial as the country recovers from coronavirus.

The Government has also announced the preferred route for the £1bn A66 Transpennine upgrade, which will provide vital improvements to a key regional link which helps to connect Glasgow and Edinburgh with Leeds, Sheffield and Norwich, improving journey times, reliability and resilience for communities across the North.

The new scheme will dual the five remaining single carriageway sections of the route and upgrade key junctions, speeding up journeys, easing congestion and boosting growth.

“No matter how great we make the railway of the future, millions will still rely on the car,” said Shapps. “That’s why today I’m publishing the preferred route to complete the dual carriageway on the A66 from Scotch Corner to Penrith. The first new all dual-carriageway across the Pennines in 50 years. This is a £1bn programme that will transform capacity by upgrading junctions and widening the road. These road and rail schemes will be the first of many. Binding our country together, and connecting people with jobs.”

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