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Mixed response from rail to Budget speech

THE railway industry has given a mixed response to the Budget.

There has been a welcome for confirmation of £50 million to help pay for five new stations in the West Midlands and another £50 million for transport improvements around the future HS2 station at Birmingham Interchange. The chancellor Rishi Sunak also said his budget would ‘unlock’ funding worth more than £40 million to reinstate passenger services between Okehampton and Exeter St David’s, subject to final approval of costs and contracts. 

Another boost came for a Global Centre for Rail Excellence in Wales, where the Westminster government will be providing match funding worth £30 million along with contributions from the Welsh Government and private companies. The new Centre will provide rolling stock and infrastructure testing on the site of a former coal mine.

The chancellor pointed out that rail passenger services in England had received £8.8 billion to keep trains running during the lockdown travel restrictions, and that he was setting aside another £2 billion for the first three months of the new financial year, which starts in April.

But he is also freezing the duty on road fuel for an eleventh successive year, although regulated rail fares in England and Wales rose by 2.6 per cent on 1 March.

Andy Bagnall of the Rail Delivery Group said: ‘Britain’s rail companies are committed to driving a green economic recovery from Covid-19. The investment set out in the budget means the railway is on track to support job creation and bring people together after the pandemic.

‘Funding for the new Global Centre of Rail Excellence in Wales, the re-opening of Okehampton to Exeter for passenger services and the creation of new stations in the West Midlands builds on the continued delivery of improvements during the pandemic. Investment in new free ports, and the transport links to them, allows rail freight companies to increasingly support British businesses and future trade opportunities.’

It was the road fuel duty freeze that attracted critics like the Campaign for Better Transport. The CBT’s chief executive Paul Tuohy said: ‘Freezing fuel duty for an eleventh year, in the same week that rail fares went up, is a mistake and sends the wrong signals about transport choices. These two policies put transport carbon emission targets even further out of reach and will worsen air pollution in our towns and cities. 

‘The Government cannot continue to avoid the inevitable, it must look to reform the old fashioned and outdated vehicle taxation system and replace it with a road pricing scheme that is fairer to everyone and better supports the Government’s green ambitions. If the Government is serious about a green recovery, it must also to do more to support public transport, including introducing flexible rail tickets as a matter of urgency to help people return to work when the time is right.’

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