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Economy Economy

Deliver the largest investment in railways since Victorian times

Last updated: 08:13pm 13 November 2019

This will include […] the largest investment in railways since Victorian times […] by the end of 2020.

Conservative Party Manifesto 2017, p.20

Our verdict

Well, this is awkward.

Back in 2012 under the coalition government, a very similar claim of investing more in railways than at any time since the Victorian era was bandied about. In fact, Prime Minister Cameron and five other cabinet ministers said as much.

The Guardian reported that Tristram Hunt, a Labour MP back then, wrote to the Treasury chief secretary asking for the statistical basis of the claim. Danny Alexander wrote back and admitted the government had “little way of knowing the level of investment prior to 1951”. As far as we’re aware, there has been no research project undertaken since then to verify levels of investment in railways in the Victorian era. So this policy promise appears to be based on very dodgy ground.

That said, we found a National Archives classroom resource which posits that:

“£3 billion was spent on building the railways from 1845 to 1900”

As an indication of the amount the Victorians spent on the railways, £3 billion in 1900, adjusted for inflation, is roughly £362 billion today.

The manifesto says the proposed railway investment will be drawn from “a new £23 billion National Productivity Investment Fund”.  Danny Alexander told Tristram Hunt the 1955 railway investment plan amounted to no more than £15 billion at today’s values. However, even that £15 billion seems unlikely to be apportioned for railways from a £23 billion fund which the manifesto says will also be used for “housing, research and development…and skills”.

There are other railway-related policies (see “Related Polices” below) which are more quantifiable and less fantastical. This policy, however, given that it is based on unknown historical investment numbers, might generously be described as political pie in the sky. As such, we’re marking it as ‘not started’.

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