Speech I gave at the Fedecrail 2018 conference in Edinburgh on 20 April

"We British have a rather complicated relationship with our railways. Our 19th century Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli prophesied that “The railways will do as much for mankind as the monasteries."

The relationship can sometimes be a bit hostile, particularly when things go wrong. But it’s generally pretty positive, and evidence of that has been the extraordinary growth in the number of passengers on our trains – doubled over the last 10 years, with totals now higher than at any time since the 1920s.

The railway created by our 19th century ancestors has never ceased to play a vital role in the life of our country – whether it’s the standardisation of time, the development of seaside resorts, giving working people the opportunity to take holidays, the invention of commuting, allowing people to live in pleasant suburbs some distance from their places of work and travel in each day, essential logistical support in times of war, and right up to today when they provide popular and environmentally friendly alternatives to carbon emitting gas guzzling short haul aircraft and unnecessary car driving.

We take a particular pride in their history, and that is one reason why our heritage railways are popular and successful. The public seem to appreciate the services that they provide, as the around 11 million visitors and 8 million passengers a year on these railways and tramways. I’ll say more about the contribution they make to our tourist and regional economies in a moment...."

Read the speech in full