Grant Shapps MP: 'We are revolutionising rail travel'

Tom Moran, Thameslink and Great Northern managing director, with Grant Shapps MP

Tom Moran, Thameslink and Great Northern managing director, with Grant Shapps MP on the new Thameslink route between Welwyn Garden City and Sevenoaks in Kent - Credit: Danny Loo

To mark the introduction of a new railway timetable, Grant Shapps MP has insisted his plan for a joined-up rail and bus network will "revolutionise" travel throughout the country.

The Secretary of State for Transport, who also serves as MP for Welwyn Hatfield, said the new timetable - which was introduced yesterday (Sunday, May 15) - is designed to accommodate home and hybrid working.

Mr Shapps' comments come amid a drive by some Conservative leaders, including the Prime Minister, to encourage workers back into their offices post-Covid.

Tom Moran, Thameslink and Great Northern managing director, with Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport

Tom Moran, Thameslink and Great Northern managing director, with Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport - Credit: Danny Loo

Mr Shapps joined members of train crew on board a new Thameslink route between Welwyn Garden City and Sevenoaks in Kent, which launched today and will run at peak times.

He said: "This new route is really good news. It opens up all sorts of possibilities."

Mr Shapps added: "The patterns have definitely changed. The world isn't going to just return to how it was before.

"Before Covid, if you said 'can we do that meeting by video?', colleagues would have been apprehensive.

Most Read

"But everyone is set up for it now. Patterns have changed, so much so that some off-peak services have actually bounced back to 100 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels - some at 106pc, and some at 110pc.

"There are more people travelling off-peak, and fewer at peak - the new timetable has to adjust to these realities.

"It could be a positive thing. We are used to trains being really busy at peak times, but passengers are more likely to pace their journeys throughout the day, which means they are using the trains more efficiently."

Mr Shapps' cabinet colleague, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has led the charge to end an alleged work-from-home culture in the civil service.

In a widely publicised move, Mr Rees-Mogg left notes on absent civil servants' desks which read: "Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon. With every good wish, Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP."

A widely publicised image of the note which Jacob Rees-Mogg left for absent civil servants

A widely publicised image of the note which Jacob Rees-Mogg left for absent civil servants - Credit: @dinosofos/Twitter

Dave Penman, FDA union's general secretary, which represents civil servants, said the move was "the most crass, condescending act I’ve seen from a minister."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson caused controversy in a Daily Mail interview, published on Friday, May 13.

He said: "My experience of working from home is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.

"So, I believe in the workplace environment. And I think that will help to drive up productivity, it will get our city centres moving, in the weekdays. And it will be good for mass transit."

Does Mr Shapps agree with his colleagues?

"My department was number four in the office working league table last week - it doesn't surprise me, because we're the Department for Transport so we all enjoy travelling.

"There are benefits to having chats around the mythical water cooler.

"Having said that, there will be a changed world. People might say, 'I am going to go in, but I'm not going to leave until 11 o'clock', which we have to reflect in our railway scheduling.

"It'll be horses for courses - workers will return to the office. I think it's right to encourage people back because it's much more positive to have that social, human aspect to office life."

Welwyn Garden City residents including former councillor Malcolm Cowan with Tom Moran and Grant Shapps

Welwyn Garden City residents including former councillor Malcolm Cowan with Tom Moran, Thameslink managing director, and Grant Shapps MP - Credit: Danny Loo

On the new route from Welwyn Garden City to Sevenoaks, Mr Shapps said: "I am delighted. This means passengers between WGC and Gatwick Airport can make the journey with just one change.

"It will link up with the Elizabeth Line at Farringdon, which opens on Tuesday, May 24."

And he insisted that rural communities in Hertfordshire will soon link up with one another, thanks to the flagship National Bus Strategy.

"Hertfordshire's 'east-west' has been notoriously bad since the Beeching Cuts, which took away great lines like the Alban Line," said Mr Shapps.

The Beeching Cuts in the 1960s resulted in the closure of approximately 5,000 miles of railways nationwide.

"But Herts is one of only three areas in the country which wants to put in franchising - like London's system - so we could end up with a London-style service. It's very exciting. It's experimental.

"One thing that wasn't very intelligent about buses before is that there was no integration plan. It was just, 'well, we're going to run a bus', and that was that."

Grant Shapps MP

Grant Shapps MP - Credit: Danny Loo

To promote affordable rail travel, Grant Shapps championed a Great British Rail Sale last month - which turned over more than 1.4 million tickets across the country at a discounted price.

To take advantage of the sale, passengers had to book their tickets between April 19 and May 2.

Will commuters begin to see a longer-term price reduction on their tickets?

"If only because inflation is even higher than usual, we've had a real-terms cut in rail prices this year.

"That sale, by the way, was phenomenally successful.

"And it targeted off-peakers - with more commuters travelling off-peak, it benefitted passengers in ways it wouldn't have done pre-pandemic."

Train fares increased by around 3.8 percent in March 2022, whereas the Consumer Price Index increased by 7pc year-on-year in the same month, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Tom Moran, Thameslink managing director, was also on board the new Welwyn Garden City to Sevenoaks train.

Mr Moran said: "We’re delighted we can now provide these extra seats and new journey opportunities for Hertfordshire and northeast London commuters. The new route is a key part of the service uplift we’ve achieved for our passengers in the new summer timetable introduced this week.

"This timetable is the starting point for rebuilding our railway, working closely with our community and industry partners to support passengers and the economic recovery of both local and regional rail."

As well as a new rush hour route between Welwyn Garden City and Kent, there are now up to 10 peak-time Great Northern trains per hour between London Moorgate and either WGC or Stevenage.