UK appoints new rail minister: Wendy Morton

Portraits of Minister Wendy Morton at 102 Petty France, London. Picture date: 19/08/19. Photo credit must read: LAUREN HURLEY CROWN COPYRIGHT.

The new rail minister for the UK is Wendy Morton, a member of parliament for Aldridge-Brownhills, a constituency in the West Midlands of England. Heaton-Harris has taken on the portfolio of minister of State for Europe.

The unexpected reshuffle in the UK government has seen several ministerial posts change hands. The impetus was the Sunday morning resignation of Brexit Minister Lord David Frost. The new Rail Minister has a huge intray to handle, with the transition to the new government-appointed Great British Railways already underway. There are also several recently published reports to scrutinise, including the contentious Integrated Rail Plan for the North of England (which cancelled the eastern part of HS2), and the Union Connectivity Review.

Into the hot seat

Rail Minister has never been an easy parliamentary beat, but Wendy Morton finds herself in a very hot seat, just in time for Christmas. Her appointment as a minister at the Department for Transport, puts her into the same boardroom as overall Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, the co-author of the Williams-Shapps Review, and instigator of the Whole Industry Strategic Plan (WISP) – just two more best sellers Ms Morton can be expected to be reading over the festive period.

The Union Connectivity Review is just one of the major reports on the desk of the new Rail Minister

Morton was previously Minister for Europe and Americas at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). She was first appointed as a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development in February of last year. Her ministerial credentials are top notch, and she will have to rely on her experience in office to get up to speed on the rail industry, with wholesale changes in the pipeline, including the transition to Great British Railways..

Welcome from the industry and rail freight sector praised

Following the appointment, Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association, was first to contact RailFreight with a word of support for the new minister. “On behalf of RIA, our members and the wider rail supply community, I’d like to welcome Wendy Morton MP as a new Minister at the Department for Transport”, he said. “We look forward to working with Ms Morton, with her new role at the DfT, at this pivotal time for UK rail.”

2022 will be a particularly important year, added Caplan. With the railway industry continuing to support the UK during the Coronavirus pandemic, particularly the rail freight sector which has been picked out for praise repeatedly. In particular there was praise from the Rail Minister’s office for the efforts early in the pandemic, which were credited with avoiding a supply chain crisis in basic commodities. The sector is undergoing a major restructure to the new Great British Railways model, added Caplan, who went on to list the delivery of major improvements to the network, including HS2, Transpennine Route Upgrade, Midlands Rail Hub, and the decarbonisation and digitalisation of the network.

Farewell with thanks to Heaton-Harris

As a confirmed advocate for the rail industry, the former rail minister Heaton-Harris is expected to be missed. As the parliamentary representative for Daventry, which includes the International Rail Freight Terminal (DIRFT), he was never far away from the heart of the freight sector. “I would also like to say thank you to outgoing Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris”, said Caplan.

Former Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris on a formal visit at Toton with I am a Climate Hero class 66 locomotive (DB Cargo UK)

“There are few Rail Ministers who have had to deal with such a crisis as Covid,” noted the RIA head. “During the past 18 months Mr Heaton-Harris really has worked tirelessly with the rail supply sector, to both ensure services kept running and to enable work to continue on renewing and enhancing railway infrastructure and rolling stock at a time when many other sectors could not function, through no fault of their own. We wish him the very best of luck in his new role, and look forward to working with him on rail issues in future, in his role as MP for Daventry.”

Don’t forget, the new rail minister has an office just a couple of stops up the line.

Featured image: Portraits of Minister Wendy Morton MP. Lauren Hurley Crown Copyright.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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