Railways and Domestic Flights - October 2021

Dear Constituent,

Thank you for contacting me about railways, planes, and decarbonisation of mass transit.

Train fare revenue is crucial to funding day-to-day railway operations and rail investment, which benefits passengers. For instance, rail operators have been investing in more trains, better stations and faster journeys. Any rise in rail fares helps to allow this to be maintained.

I am pleased that the Government is committed to delivering the biggest investment in the railways since Victorian times, with investment between 2019 and 2024 expected to be £47.9 billion.

Connecting smaller towns is also important. I am pleased that the Government has committed £500 million to start reopening lines closed following the Beeching report, reconnecting smaller towns, regenerating local economies and improving accessibility to jobs, homes and education.

New trains are also being rolled across the network on both intercity and commuter routes, for example the new Azuma trains on the East Coast Main Line and new trains on Greater Anglia and on West Midlands Trains. These new trains will modernise travel, with more comfortable seats, improved accessibility, free Wi-Fi as standard, power sockets and air-conditioning.

An £80 million investment has also seen smart card and bar code ticketing become available across almost the entire network, and the Government’s ambition is to see pay-as-you-go rolled out across more regional and urban commuter areas, delivering the kind of system that already exists in London.

In addition, targeted investments are being made to help reduce delays and make more effective use of the network. For example, £450 million has been committed to increase the use of digital technology for managing the railway.

In addition to providing record investment, I welcome that the Government also recently proposed the biggest change to the railways in 25 years, bringing the network under single national leadership. A new public body, Great British Railways, will own the infrastructure, receive the fare revenue, run and plan the network and set most fares and timetables. Reforms will also include a simplified ticketing system, including the rollout of new flexible season tickets to reflect new working and travel patterns, as well as making significant roll-outs of pay as you go, contactless ticketing and digital ticketing on smartphones.

Further electrification of the rail network will play an important role in achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That is why Ministers have pledged to deliver sustained carbon reductions in rail, including by removing all diesel-only trains from the network by 2040. Low carbon technologies will also be deployed - such as hydrogen or battery trains - where it makes economic and operational sense.

To enable the railways to meet growing passenger and freight demand, and to support significant shifts from road and air to rail, I am aware that the Government intends to build extra capacity, including via new high-speed lines and the reopening of old lines. Significant improvements will also be delivered to regional city public transport networks with the aim of making them as good as London's. To support this ambition, I am happy that the Chancellor committed £6.9 billion at the Autumn Budget for local transport in our city regions.

With regard to the Campaign for Better Transport’s other campaign requests frequent flyers already pay more under the APD system, but I welcome recent consultation on aviation tax reform and look forward to the outcome of this consultation. An additional frequent flier levy would be complex to administer, could be difficult to implement, would pose data processing and privacy concerns, and could prove unfair for those with an essential need to fly frequently. I think it is therefore sensible to keep any changes within the context of the existing APD system.

With regards to other air travel, I do welcome that the UK Government will cut Air Passenger Duty (APD) on UK domestic flights by 50 per cent to boost Union connectivity. This will make travel cheaper and more accessible for around nine million passengers in 2023-24. However, it is right that the Government will introduce a new ultra-long-haul band, covering destinations with capitals located more than 5,500 miles from London to align APD more closely with the Government’s environmental objectives.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Sincerely,

Richard Fuller