Mark Harper the transport secretary and RIA panel

UK Minister meets rail freight industry

Mark Harper the UKtransport secretary and RIA panel Image collage: RIA media

UK’s transport secretary Mark Harper has met the rail freight industry to debate the issues facing the sector and to face his most critical audience. Reform, investment and engagement were all on the agenda. The meeting took place in Glasgow at the recent conference of the Scottish Conservatives – the largely autonomous part of the ruling political party in British politics. 

At the event, Alister Jack, a Scottish Member of Parliament (MP) and the UK Secretary of State for Scotland spoke of the need to deliver on rail reform and smoother investment, and engage closely with the railway industry. Other panellists included Shadow Scottish Transport Minister Graham Simpson MSP and Meirion Thomas, Scotland Chair of the Railway Industry Association (RIA).

“Clearly now is a significant time for the railways”, said Darren Caplan, the RIA chief executive, who was an interested member of the audience. “[There are] a number of industry-related items to deal with in the Secretary of State for Transport’s in-tray, including rail reform, making investment more certain, and decarbonising track and train. “[Also], providing funding for and delivering enhancements, major projects, and digitalisation. As such, we appreciate Transport Secretary Mark Harper discussing the issues of the day with the RIA. We hope to make positive progress with him, on a number of fronts, in the weeks and months ahead. This meeting and event were an encouraging start.”

Investment and decarbonisation

That the meeting was held in Scotland was not lost on the panelists nor the audience. Transport is a devolved matter in Scotland, and the Holyrood government, which most certainly does not share political ground with the Westminster administration, is keen to point to its triumphs in the transport sector, particularly in the field of electrifying the railways and attendance decarbonisation. That consistent programme has provided a steady stream of work for RIA members north of the border, albeit in a relatively small market. Mark Harper’s Department for Transport may still have to live down the pause on HS2, but it can point to a number of other mega-projects that are very much still underway, and employing RIA members, often in large numbers.

“It was great to see both Transport Secretary Mark Harper and Shadow Scottish Transport Minister Graham Simpson debate rail policy”, said: Meirion Thomas. “We discussed a number of areas on how to take Scotland’s railway forward, from investment and decarbonisation through to how to get HS2 trains to Scotland. It was also positive that Mr Harper was supportive of the role rail suppliers can play in ensuring a vibrant railway industry.” That optimism may have to be tempered in the light of the HS2 pause. Mark Harper may not be making his way back to London just as fast as he’d like, and that is, in itself, another talking point worthy of debate.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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