With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on rail investment. This Government have always been clear that our overwhelming priority is rebuilding our economy and restoring economic growth, to enable this country to compete in the global marketplace in the years and decades ahead. Just as we are dealing with the budget deficit, so we are determined to deal with the massive infrastructure deficit that we inherited. That is why we have taken the deliberate decision to prioritise significant investment in our transport infrastructure—not only in Thameslink, Crossrail, High Speed 2 and hard-shoulder running on motorways, but in relatively small interventions that make a big difference, such as tackling pinch points on our motorway network.
The huge growth in passenger numbers over the last decade or more demonstrates how much people and businesses value and rely on our railway system. The numbers speak for themselves. Last year, passengers made 1.5 billion journeys, and the number of passenger miles travelled was almost 50% higher than in 2000. Rail freight operators carried 100 million tonnes of goods last year, with freight moved up by more than 15% over the same period. To help to meet that rapidly rising demand, we have already committed to the biggest rail modernisation programme since the Victorian age, with more than £18 billion of rail investment in this spending review period alone, including in High Speed 2 and Crossrail.
Today, I can announce that we are increasing that commitment, with a further £16 billion of public support for the classic rail network between 2014 and 2019, which will support more than £9 billion of enhancement in line upgrades, greater capacity and more electrification. The high-level output specification that I am publishing today sets out my vision for the railway in 2019, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Department for Transport officials and the rail team who have worked with me on that project.
My vision is for a railway that is cheaper, greener and more reliable to run, that supports economic growth and that delivers for its passengers and freight customers. Passengers are at the heart of that vision, which is about delivering the capacity so that passengers can get to work; helping people and business to get between our cities faster; getting more freight off our roads and on to our railways; and improving access to our ports and airports. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the many MPs who have represented their community needs to me as I have developed the package.
At the heart of the high-level output specification is a rolling programme of electrification to deliver more powerful, more sustainable and more efficient trains for passengers and to allow freight operators to use electric trains to haul longer loads at lower cost. Today, I am asking the rail industry to create a new electric spine for freight and passenger services from the south coast to the east and west midlands and south Yorkshire. That electric spine will include the electrification of the midland main line to Sheffield, which will dramatically improve passenger services between London, the midlands and Yorkshire. It could cut journey times by up to 13 minutes.
It will include overhead electrification between Southampton and Basingstoke, which will be a pilot for possible wider replacement of the less efficient third rail system in the wider south-east.
I am also delighted to announce that my Department and the Welsh Government have agreed on a proposal for the electrification of the valleys lines into Cardiff and for the completion of the electrification of the Great Western main line to Swansea. That is fantastic news for people in south Wales. I have worked closely with the Welsh Government and the Secretary of State for Wales, who has tirelessly made the case for investment in Wales, and I expect that investment to help to unlock significant economic and employment opportunities in some of the most deprived parts of Wales.
This is the largest programme of rail electrification that this country has ever seen. The previous Government electrified just 10 miles of railway, but we have now set out plans for more than 850 more miles of electrified railway. By the time that is completed at the turn of the decade, on current estimates, three quarters of all rail journeys in England and Wales will be made on cheaper, greener and more reliable electric trains. With the number of rail passenger journeys expected to increase by 16% over the period, I am also asking the rail industry to provide capacity for 120,000 more commuters into London and over 20,000 more into regional cities.
Inter-city rail travellers will also benefit from new investments. Those benefits will include the completion of the northern hub project in Manchester; a £240 million investment in capacity and connectivity improvements for the east coast main line, benefiting communities from the home counties to the north-east; and a further £300 million for high-value, small-scale schemes in other parts of the country. That is on top of the improvements to which we have already committed ourselves, including faster journeys from London to Scotland and Wales through the inter-city express programme, and across northern England from Liverpool to Newcastle through electrification of the north trans-Pennine line.
Passengers also want better transport access to international gateways. As I told the House on Thursday, I am asking Network Rail to develop a new western access rail link to our hub airport at Heathrow. I am also asking for improvements in the vital freight route to Felixstowe port through line and junction upgrades at Leicester, Peterborough and Ely. That will give a significant boost to the rail freight industry, which forecasts a 23% increase in demand by 2019. I am providing £200 million of new funds to support the development of the freight network in order to meet that increased demand.
I know that, for passengers, railways are often more about stations than about carriages and track. The HLOS programme that I am announcing today will benefit stations at Bristol, Huddersfield and Oxford, and will recognise the value of smaller-scale station schemes by providing further funds for the Access for All and national stations improvement programmes, both of which have delivered excellent results for rail users in recent years. I also know that not everyone can get to a station easily, and that a number of local communities have long wanted to see a new station in their area. I am making £20 million available initially, and asking Network Rail to launch a competition inviting bids for new stations now.
Vital though that massive programme of investment is, there is another equally important programme that we must deliver to ensure that our railway remains affordable. Sir Roy McNulty’s review identified inefficiencies in our rail industry worth up to £3.5 billion a year. I assure the House that I remain committed to eradicating those inefficiencies, and to sharing the benefits with passengers and taxpayers. Alongside HLOS, I am publishing the funding that I will make available to enable the railway to operate over the period. The settlement is necessarily challenging: it assumes that the industry will deliver the important reforms set out in my March Command Paper and that the benefit will be returned to us all, whether we are passengers or taxpayers.
That builds on the reforms that we are already making to rail franchises, with longer contracts and more flexibility for operators to innovate in the interests of passengers. We recently published the invitation to tender for Essex Thameside, and I expect to announce the Great Western ITT shortly. I also expect to announce the award of the next west coast franchise over the summer. Today I am publishing revised guidance for the Office of Rail Regulation, which has statutory responsibility for Network Rail’s efficiency, stressing the importance that I—along with passengers and taxpayers—attach to efficiency and value for money.
Today’s announcement represents another historic landmark in the regeneration and modernisation of Britain’s railways. It represents a recognition that investment in HS2 must not be at the expense of investment in the existing network, and it shows that the Government’s vision for the railways is clear: a railway system that is faster, more reliable, less crowded and more green. Today we are taking real steps to make that happen by delivering on our commitment to deficit reduction through a more efficient railway, recognising our commitment to High Speed 2 by developing the railway and preparing it for integration with the new line, and supporting our economy by bringing people and jobs closer together. That is our vision, that is our priority, and I commend it to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of her statement, most of which, of course, we read in the newspapers over the weekend and this morning.
What we have just heard is a list of rail investment projects that were announced by the last Government—[Interruption.] It is true. They were announced by the last Government, but they will have to be delivered by the next one. We were promised £9 billion of new investment, but, as we have heard today, the reality is a plan for just £4.2 billion of new rail schemes over five years—less than half the amount that was spun to the media in advance of today’s statement to the House. Of the rest—the other £5.2 billion—more than half is simply confirmation that schemes already under way will not be cancelled halfway through, including Crossrail, Thameslink, the electrification of the Great Western main line, and the electrification in the north-west and across the Pennines, all schemes announced by my noble Friend Lord Adonis as Secretary of State for Transport in 2009.
Even many of the supposedly new projects which make up the remaining £4.2 billion are not so new after all, such as electrification of the midland main line, for which development of the economic case was announced by Lord Adonis, and to which we committed at the last election. Today’s U-turn on the Great Western main line is an acceptance that we were right to commit to completing electrification all the way to Swansea, a decision the Secretary of State and her predecessor have spent two years saying had no business case or economic benefit, when it plainly did. I welcome that U-turn; it is a victory for the Labour Government in Wales.
It is right for the Government to commit to completing the northern hub. That is vital to improve connectivity and capacity between our northern cities. However, instead of that being promised for after the next election, we could have made further progress with the scheme in this Parliament. However, the Government chose to cut investment in this spending period by £1.2 billion, according to Network Rail’s latest delivery plan update for the current control period, CP 4. It says that that has led to deferrals to CP 5, the period covered by today’s announcement. So we have cuts in this Parliament replaced by promises for the next. As the Select Committee on Transport has discovered, the entire northern hub could have been funded this year just from the Department’s underspend, but the Secretary of State instead chose to hand that money back to the Treasury.
We have also had confirmation today that the Government are determined to press ahead with hiking rail fares by up to 11% in each of the next two years, on top of January’s fare rises of up to 13%. The misery for passengers is not to stop there: we discover from the tender documents for the new franchises that bidders are being assured they can then go on imposing eye-watering fare rises of up to 8% every year. That means more than a decade to come of investment-busting fare rises.
Will the Secretary of State confirm how much lower investment in enhancement schemes, greater capacity and electrification will be in control period 5 than in control period 4? Can she confirm when work will begin on the ground, actually delivering jobs from each of the schemes that have yet to get under way? Will she update the House on the significant delays in completing the contractual negotiations for Thameslink rolling stock and the inter-city express programme? Will she confirm that she has approved a cut in the planned order of new inter-city trains from 1,400, as planned by Labour, to fewer than 600?
When will we see the results of the review into train procurement that was promised following the fiasco of awarding the Thameslink contract to a company that will build the trains in Germany? With long-term youth unemployment having trebled in the last year, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that young people benefit from the investment through apprenticeships and jobs? Will the Secretary of State confirm that Network Rail’s debt, now standing at £27 billion, is set to increase to £33 billion by the end of this control period? How much will that have risen to by the end of 2019, as a result of today’s announcement?
On Network Rail, will the Secretary of State join me in condemning the decision to again propose a bonus scheme that will see senior managers handed £300,000 each, apparently because they have said they will walk away if they do not get it, and then a wider bonus
scheme that could cost taxpayers £11.7 million? Can she confirm that, as she threatened last time, she will turn up to this Thursday’s annual general meeting and vote against that package, and if not, why not?
In light of the commitments made to improve rail links to Heathrow, when will the aviation industry actually be allowed to submit evidence to the Department on the country’s medium-term and long-term aviation capacity needs, or do we have this lack of joined-up policy making because we are awaiting the next Government reshuffle?
I have to say that many people watching this will be amazed at the hon. Lady—rather than looking at the glass 95% full, she seems to be looking at it 5% empty. The bottom line is that the Labour Government had 13 years to crack on with this, so if they did not get to do it, they have only themselves to blame. We are in government and we are taking our opportunity to improve our railway system for our people.
I am delighted that it is a coalition Government who have finally delivered on that programme of transformation for the Welsh railways. It will make a huge difference to the Welsh economy, and I am delighted that we have been able to announce it today. I can assure the hon. Lady that we are looking at whether we can advance some elements of the investment earlier—of course we are. In fact, that comes on the back of a huge amount of work already under way across the industry, be it the work happening at Reading station, Peterborough station and Birmingham station, which is having a huge refit; the work on Crossrail and Thameslink; or the work we have just finished at St Pancras.
The hon. Lady talked about the inter-city express programme, and we are making good progress in those negotiations. She will be aware that, as and when Hitachi is able to start building those trains, it will open a brand new depot in the north-east, which will create several hundred jobs. I very much hope that it will be the beginning of a story for that region in the coming years that mirrors the one people have seen in the automobile industry.
The hon. Lady asked about apprenticeships and jobs. Network Rail is playing its role in developing a skilled British work force through recruitment and development. It is taking on 200 new apprentices annually on a three-year programme, and there is now a graduate programme in place, which took about 150 people in 2011. It is also funding an industry-wide track and train programme to give opportunities to unemployed graduates, offering three six-month placements with different organisations. I got to meet some of those graduates earlier this year, and it was outstanding to see them and the opportunities they have been presented with. So a huge amount of effort is already going on in the industry. Today’s announcement will complement that and give the industry the pipeline for the future which will allow
it to invest not only in its own companies, but in the supply chain that we so badly need to make sure that that work can be supported.
The hon. Lady asked about Network Rail bonuses. Well, you know what, I am the first Secretary of State for Transport who has ever expressed an opinion on them, so I do not need to take any lectures from the ex-Government, who set up Network Rail and then proceeded to spend the whole time complaining about how it ran itself. It is putting in place its new governance structure, which will be a more responsible one than that set up for it by the Labour Government. It beggars belief that, on a day when we announced such an historic investment, all the Opposition can do is carp from the sidelines. However, I suspect that while that is their strategy they will remain exactly where they are now: on the sidelines.
Order. I remind the House that, in accordance with convention, Members who entered the Chamber after the Secretary of State began her statement should not be seeking to catch my eye. It is also obvious that there is very widespread interest in this subject—understandably so—which I am keen to accommodate, but Members will also be aware that there are two Opposition-day debates to follow. Therefore, there is a premium on brevity from Back Benchers and Front Benchers alike.
Over the past two years Network Rail has announced losses of £344 million on its very large derivatives book, so would not a better way of spending that money be to have a national programme to replace dangerous level crossings with bridges and underpasses—and could that start in Wokingham, please?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point about passenger safety. In fact, the railways are one of the safest modes of travel we have. We have announced £65 million today to see continued improvement in level crossings. I would be very happy to meet him to hear his concerns about his local station, and I am sure that Network Rail, which takes the decisions, will also be interested to hear those concerns.
This is a welcome investment announcement, but it appears to be based on the industry finding an as yet unidentified £3.5 billion of savings. If those savings are not found or if the cuts involved are not acceptable, which of today’s announcements will not take place?
I believe that the savings will be found. We have a work programme in place and for the first time the industry has come together. Sir David Higgins, when he appeared at the hon. Lady’s Committee recently, committed to reducing his costs base by 20% and said that he was keen to go further. I believe that we have a plan in place to work with the industry. Critical to that is not constantly reorganising it, as it is time for it to stay where it is and work together better.
I commend the Secretary of State for her statement. The upgrade and electrification of the midland main line will be hugely welcome in Kettering. Will she announce the details of the upgrades that will take place along the midland main line, because that is a crucial part of the investment that she has just announced?
There will be a variety of upgrades of junctions, tracks and capacity. One key aspect of today’s announcement is the removal of some of the bottlenecks that often stop passenger trains going as fast as they can. Many of us will have been on a passenger train while it travelled at what seemed to be quite a slow pace. That is often because it is stuck behind a freight train. A number of the smaller improvements we are making today will mean that that happens less and that will be one of the things we can do to improve my hon. Friend’s line.
It would be churlish not to welcome the fulfilment of a Labour pledge to electrify the midland main line and to make the associated improvements. Will the Secretary of State tell us exactly when those improvements and the electrification will begin?
The improvements will take place over the 2014 to 2019 period, as the project is developed and rolled out. I have worked hard to ensure that Sheffield has a good transport package from the Department. Another thing that I managed to get sorted out, which the right hon. Gentleman’s Government never did, was £3 million for a footpath bridge over the railway line, which will mean that his community and others around that area can get into Sheffield from the other side of the railway track. I believe that that, alongside the midland main line scheme and the capacity changes, means that by 2019 he will see a much better service.
The Labour chairman of Transport for Greater Manchester said of today’s announcement:
“Taken together, these investments will change the face of rail services in the North of England in a manner that has not been seen for several generations.
The Northern Hub and electrification programmes will be a catalyst to help drive economic growth across the north”.
I could not agree more. Does that not prove the commitment of the coalition Government to rebalancing the economy and bringing investment and jobs to the north of England?
Absolutely it does. It is this Government who have brought forward the investment plans for the northern hub and been prepared to finance them and it is this Government who have gone on with High Speed 2, which is critical in the longer term for improving connectivity across the whole country. It will particularly benefit the great northern cities, one of which the hon. Gentleman represents.
I assume from the welcome reference in the Secretary of State’s statement to high-value, small-scale schemes that she accepts that, to avoid a two-tier railway, lines such as the
Blackburn to Bolton line are in urgent need of doubling and improvement. What progress is likely to be made on that?
The good news is that our investment in the northern hub opens up more capacity on that stretch of the line. Of course, the decision about how the capacity is then used is a local and regional decision. For the first time, the opportunity will open up and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will want to make his case to his local passenger transport executive.
I welcome the whole of my right hon. Friend’s statement and, in particular, her decision to go ahead with the long-promised and often delayed electrification of the midland main line. Is that not a clear example of action by the coalition following years of broken promises from Labour?
It absolutely is—my right hon. Friend has been a tireless campaigner to get that investment which communities such as his have so long needed. We are going to get on with the upgrade and the electrification of the midland main line. That will also, incidentally, release long-distance diesel trains, which we can potentially cascade on to other parts of the network, so it will have benefits that go far broader than just the midland main line.
Will the Secretary of State make sure that the electrified midland main line connects to the first phase of High Speed 2, so that Yorkshire gets classic compatible trains running fast from London via Birmingham to Yorkshire just as quickly as Manchester? Will she reflect on her claim that only 10 miles of track was electrified under Labour? After all, High Speed 1 from the channel tunnel to London, a brand-new electric line, was built when Labour was in power.
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have the highest regard and affection, that if he is going to ask a question about High Speed, there is real merit in asking a high-speed question. From now on, we need short questions and short answers. I say that in the interests of colleagues whom we wish to accommodate.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question with me only last week in a meeting that I had with him on High Speed 2. As I said to him then, there are some challenges in doing as he suggests, but one of the most important aspects of the High Speed 2 business case is to ensure that as many communities as possible are connected up with it, and that we do that as soon as possible. I have no doubt that we will continue to look at whether those options are available to us and we can progress them. In the meantime the great news for him is that we will see High Speed coming up to his part of the country and it will hugely benefit his community when it gets there.
May I thank my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor for backing the campaign that I led for western access to Heathrow, which will connect Reading directly to the nation’s hub airport? Does she agree that the £500 million investment
offers the opportunity for further private sector involvement and investment to ease pressure on the taxpayer and also on ticket prices?
I think that it does. In the Department for Transport we are keen to look at how we can more efficiently and effectively leverage in private sector investment. We were able to do that recently on the local authorities’ major road schemes and we should look to do it also on rail schemes where we can. Interestingly, on the £500 million project that we are taking ahead for that western rail access to Heathrow, more than 90% of the benefits will go directly to businesses, so it is a real catalyst for growth in the Thames valley area.
That is a very good point. The electrification will open up a range of possibilities—[Interruption]—and it will massively improve journey times, as well as the quality of service. I can hear hon. Members on the Opposition Benches chuntering, as if somehow we have just made a bad announcement. It is a transformational one. It will drive growth and jobs in south Wales and we should all welcome it wholeheartedly.
As chairman of the all-party group on east-west rail, I thank my right hon. Friend for announcing that her new line is to be electrified. As a diesel route it was due to generate 12,000 new jobs in the region. Can my right hon. Friend set out what additional benefits she expects an electric route to deliver?
I think it will mean a lower cost railway and lighter trains which are more efficient and reduce maintenance costs. They are more reliable trains and they open up better opportunities for scheduling than we have had in the past with diesel trains. It is a huge investment which will massively impact on my hon. Friend’s local community and it opens up the possibility of seeing whether we can extend that line further towards east Anglia in the coming years.
I am not sure whether I can give the hon. Gentleman the categorical in-principle assurance that he wants, but I am sure he will welcome the fact that a huge chunk of the investment will help get more freight off the road and on to the railways, and of course the electric spine project is one of the key ways in which we can do that. There is also investment in Felixstowe so that we can continue to get containers by rail. Importantly, one of the other pieces of work in which we are engaged is improving the gauge so that it can take bigger containers than it is currently able to take. That will open up easier travel by rail for the container market.
I welcome with inexplicable joy the announcement on the northern hub, which I have waited to see for so many years. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the amount of investment in the north-west, Yorkshire and the north-east puts to bed any notion whatsoever that the north does not get its fair share of Government funding?
I absolutely think that. As someone who was born and bred in Yorkshire, I think that the sort of investment now going up to the north of our country is absolutely critical. There is so much talent up there; we just need to make sure we invest to unlock it.
The Secretary of State mentioned small interventions that make a big difference. Do her plans include any proposal to look at the Halton curve in Cheshire, which is an important project for both Cheshire and Merseyside, and if they do not will she go away and look at it again?
That is more of a local scheme, but I will certainly undertake to look at it and see whether I can get back to the hon. Gentleman with some more details.
I welcome the announcement of a £700 million investment for reducing overcrowding and congestion in London and the south-east. Will my right hon. Friend kindly look at the causes of overcrowding on Southeastern’s routes to Orpington, which, extraordinarily for a station of its size, has no fast trains at all during peak hours?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of capacity in London, particularly on his line, which I know local MPs have had real concerns about. We are looking to work closely with operators such as TfL to see what we can do together to improve those services over time. As I said earlier, 120,000 more people are catered for in these plans, which we have worked up very carefully. I think that it is very good news for commuters in London.
I welcome the statement, if it is not in fact one about jam tomorrow. In those circumstances, can the Secretary of State give some indication of what additional resources will be put into the railway system this side of the general election and, in particular, how much extra will be paid to the Scottish Parliament?
Mr Donohoe will know that transport in Scotland is a devolved matter. He will also know that in the spending review we have committed £18 billion for the railway network, an outstanding amount of investment that can make a huge difference. Of course, today’s announcement adds further to that pipeline. I think that the certainty it will give the industry about the investment coming down the track will really help to ensure that we get the
most out of the improvement not only for passengers and freight, but for jobs and growth, particularly in the railway industry.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. That is probably the closest I will get to the Dispatch Box—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]—in this Parliament. In the last Parliament Labour’s contribution to tackling congestion in Leeds was cancelling the Leeds supertram and continuing to insist on a no-growth franchise for Northern Rail. Susie Cawood, from the Leeds, York and North Yorkshire chamber of commerce has said:
“The chamber welcomes government investment in the rail network…Continued investment is essential to ensure we remain competitive and continue to attract inward investment and grow our existing businesses—
Order. The hon. Gentleman should not take advantage of a situation. Many Members want to get in and this has to finish at five past 5. In fairness, we all have to get in.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that this investment will make a big difference to Leeds. It is not just on the back of the north trans-Pennine express electrification. He will also know that the £240 million investment in the east coast main line will also improve services for his constituents. Of course, he will be aware that in the longer term we are investing in High Speed 2, which will have a stop in Leeds.
Despite my constituents paying ever higher fares to travel by train, Hull will be the largest city in this country without electrification. Why is that?
We are working our way around the UK. In fact, by the end of this decade around three quarters of passenger miles will be on electrified railways. I can assure the hon. Lady that the Government absolutely want to progress electrification—it is better for the railways overall, it has a good business case, and it is good for the environment—but obviously we still have to cut our cloth to meet the public affordability needs, which is what we are trying to do. She will know that I have taken a real interest in her area, which is one of the reasons why, while I have been Secretary of State for Transport, we have halved the tolls on the Humber bridge.
This is a great day for Greater Nottingham, which has waited many years for the electrification of the midland main line. Can the Secretary of State, whom I thank from the bottom of my heart, confirm that it will give a real economic boost to Beeston in my constituency, to the enterprise zone, and to the business park which is bang opposite the station?
I am absolutely sure that it will. We are developing a fantastic midland main line for what is a fantastic city.
We are looking at whether there is any possibility of opening lines. Our main focus has been on whether we can improve stations, and in fact open new ones, but over time we may be able to unlock some of those local decisions through the Department’s decentralisation approach. We have just consulted on that, some very interesting responses have come through and I hope that we will make some announcements later. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point with real interest.
My hon. Friend has raised the issue tirelessly and recently had a Westminster Hall debate on the topic, and it is campaigners such as my hon. Friend who have really powerfully put the case to Ministers for looking at the issue and seeing what we can do to tackle it. The Ely junction will be done, and it matters massively, because it creates the potential for enhanced passenger services between Cambridge, King’s Lynn and Norwich, so it will have broader benefits, including freight, which, with Felixstowe nearby in her constituency, I know is close to her heart.
While indeed welcoming the news that an electrified train will be heading down the tracks to Swansea, and to Maesteg, at some point in the future, we note that there is a two-year delay, so when will the train be arriving in Swansea, and when in Maesteg?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are cracking on with the programme now, and that is precisely why it has been announced today as part of our priority for the next control period. We will work on it with the Welsh Assembly Government, and I am sure that we will be able to release more details to him shortly.
Our investment proposal today is about making sure that we have a railway network that can cope with the level of demand in coming years, and that is absolutely critical for our economy, but my hon. Friend is right that we have to ensure that the railways are efficient, and a railway system that every year costs us £3.5 billion more than it needs to is not acceptable. That is why in order to address efficiency we have some difficult challenges ahead of us, but we are going to work with the industry to do that, because the points that he makes are absolutely valid. We have to tackle
inefficiency. Well run organisations provide a better service to their customers, and I am determined to turn the railways into a well-run organisation.
We have been very clear about wanting to see improvements in the west coast main line service, and we have actually seen passenger numbers on that franchise grow rapidly over recent years. We want to see those improvements continue and, at the same time, value for money for the taxpayer. I hope that some of the investment that we are putting in across the network today will help support all that, and the right hon. Gentleman will obviously be interested to see the outcome of the tender process later on.
Unlike Opposition Members, I welcome today’s statement. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the northern hub electrification will lead to improved journey times, more frequent trains and much better connectivity between the great towns and cities in the north-west of England?
Yes, yes and yes.
I, too, welcome the electrification of the midland main line. [Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] But a letter from the Minister of State, Mrs Villiers, arrived in my inbox shortly before this statement. It says:
“Completion of Midland Mainline electrification is proposed for 2019.”
That is seven years away. Given the increasing north-south divide, I urge the Secretary of State to bring it forward so that we get the benefits more quickly.
To reassure the hon. Lady, I should say that we are looking at whether we can commence some of the investment earlier. We have had to set out our basic proposals, of course, but let us be clear: today we are setting out a statement of output—what we want to get out of the railway system. It is now for the industry to go away and look at how it can achieve the outcomes that we are specifying. The midland main line electrification is one of the key, explicit schemes that we have said we want to bring forward. If the industry has a proposal to do it faster than the timeline that we have mentioned, I have no doubt that we will be very interested in looking at it.
The hon. Gentleman will see improvements in services and capacity over the coming years. Many of the improvements that we are announcing on the network today can improve his area, too—not
least through the potential to improve stations and see access for all stations brought to his area. There is also investment in safety at level crossings and the general pots that we put in place to improve passenger experience and the strategic freight network. There is a huge number of different aspects to the investment, and I am sure that many of them will relate to the hon. Gentleman’s community.
Will today’s announcement have any budgetary implications for devolved Administrations through the Barnett formula? What practical measures has the Secretary of State put in the procurement provisions to ensure that her aspiration of jobs for British industry and the UK supply chain is realised by this investment?
On the hon. Gentleman’s point about jobs and growth, I should say that absolutely I have looked not only at what we need on our network and the investment profile but at getting a really clear understanding on how the measures can help support jobs and growth, particularly in the railway industry.
The hon. Gentleman knows that I am keen to make sure that the money that we are spending as a Government benefits not just passengers but the industry, in creating more jobs. We will continue to look at how we can make sure that our procurement processes work effectively and I certainly hope that we can do more to support our industry than the last Government.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the journey time from Leicester to London will now be under an hour, at 58 minutes, and that we will get new electric trains? Will she be straightening out the Harborough curves, which have long been an obstacle to electrification?
I can confirm those journey-time improvements for my hon. Friend’s constituents, who will welcome that, as I do. On the particular aspect of the curves, I will make sure that I write to him so that I get my facts right, but I hope and believe that there will be a positive response on that, too.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we worked closely not only with the Secretary of State for Wales but the Welsh Assembly Government. I met Carl Sergeant a few times to discuss these proposals. As regards how the financing will work, the basic scheme for the valleys is £300 million. That is funded through track access charges that franchise operators will pay. It pays them to do this, because they save money through electrification, which reduces their operating costs. Once the valleys electrification has been completed, that, in essence, will electrify the line to Bridgend, which means that the final piece to Swansea becomes worth doing. It also simplifies our rolling stock procurement.
The final piece of the Bridgend to Swansea electrification is being funded by the UK Government to the tune of £50 million. All in all, it is a good deal for Wales.
I welcome the announcement that a fund will be made available to consider applications for railway stations to be opened. My right hon. Friend will recall a meeting earlier this year with me and representatives from Derbyshire county council regarding the Ilkeston train station project. There is a strong regeneration case for that important project, and it is well matched with the fund that has been announced today, so does she, too, hope that it can be delivered?
Ultimately that will be a decision for Network Rail. Let me be clear, though, that it was the meetings I had with my hon. Friend and her local councillors that brought home to me the fact that money needed to be set aside to make sure that new stations can be opened for the communities that need them where growth is happening. I very much hope that her Ilkeston station plan will go forward to the competition bid, and I will look with real interest to see it come through.
Does the electrification programme include the electrification of the Barking to Gospel Oak section of London Overground? I had a meeting with one of her colleagues about this some months ago. It would make freight transportation from the east of England easier, improve passenger services, save a lot of money, and be environmentally sensible. Will she go for it?
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point. That is not part of the electrification plans that we have announced today. Ultimately it is for Transport for London to fund it if it wants to do so, but I am sure that it will take on board the points that the hon. Gentleman has made and, if the business case stacks up, might consider it.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all that she is doing on the east-west rail link. It has been quite difficult keeping up with all the good news today. Will she therefore arrange to put in the Library a map of the national rail network as she envisages it in 2020 and in 2025 so that we can share it with our constituents?
I will make sure that that is done. My hon. Friend will see huge swathes of the network being newly electrified and pockets of growth in our key cities where we are now meeting demand.
The Secretary of State should be congratulated on any investment for our country, for the Yorkshire region, for the northern hub and for Huddersfield, but according to the classic economic theory of Keynes, this country is in a deep recession, and we need this investment now, not in two years’ time.
To provide the hon. Gentleman with some reassurance, we are getting on with huge amounts of investment right now. Of course, if we want to be ready to get the next pipeline kicked off in 2014, we have to announce it today so that the industry can start to look at what we want and then come back with proposals on achieving it. He is absolutely right to say that projects such as the northern hub are crucial. I am very proud and pleased that we have been able to announce that investment, and I look forward to working with him as we develop these proposals.
Welcome as today’s announcement is, and although I hate to rain on the right hon. Lady’s parade, I fear that they will not be dancing in the streets of Penzance by the end of the week if the Government go ahead, as we suspect, with reducing the service by a third. Will she reassure my constituents that this welcome investment in and improvement of the rail service across the country as a whole is not built on the back of cuts to the service to Penzance?
I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, which he is going to talk through tomorrow with the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend Mrs Villiers. I assure him that no final decisions have been made. I emphasise that the HLOS investment that we are making will open up real opportunities for us to cascade rolling stock. For example, the high-speed diesel fleet that is currently on the midland main line—the Meridian stock—will be available, and we will see how we can use that effectively on other parts of the network.
The people of the Rhondda Fawr will doubtless want to get out the bunting and skip for joy—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] They will doubtless want to do so when the Treherbert to Cardiff line has been electrified. What date should I put in my diary for the opening of that electrified line? Will it happen before the review of constituency boundaries and before Lords reform, or perhaps after?
It is nice to know that the hon. Gentleman looks at things through such a political lens, rather than from the perspective of his local community. This investment will take place from 2014 to 2019. It will make a huge difference to communities such as his. I only wish that he could support it wholeheartedly and without reservation.
May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend on how much she is doing in the north-west to deal with the neglect of the previous Government? What will she do about towns such as Fleetwood in my constituency, which had 13 years of rusty railway lines and still have no trains on them?
That is really a local matter for my hon. Friend’s regional passenger transport executive. As he will know, we are electrifying the Manchester to Blackpool railway line, which will provide real benefits. I am keen, as colleagues across the House know, to
understand what people want next. If I know what they want next, I can set about seeing whether we can provide it.
I am pleased that the northern hub is proceeding. It could give us six trains an hour between Manchester and Leeds, running through my constituency. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be wrong to sacrifice local services, such as those connecting Mossley and Ashton, to make way for extra inter-city services, and that the train operating companies should use any extra capacity and infrastructure to improve services for everybody?
We are careful to ensure that we understand the impacts of the northern hub. For example, today’s announcement includes increased capacity at Huddersfield station to maximise the benefits of the northern hub investment. We will continue to look at how we can do that across the whole of the network. I believe that this project will be hugely influential in unlocking economic growth across the Pennines—linking up the areas as they have always wanted.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her commitment to upgrade the Ely North junction. May I ask that half-hourly services to King’s Lynn be specified in the Thameslink franchise agreement in 2013 and the Norwich to Cambridge franchise agreement in 2014 so that passengers can see the benefit of that upgrade?
It is too early to say exactly what will be specified in the franchise contracts, but many of the investment proposals that we have put in place today, which the industry will come back to us with more detailed versions of, allow the potential for more frequent services. I know that that is exactly what communities such as my hon. Friend’s want. We are building headroom for growth into the railway network for the communities that need it.
I find myself in the strange position of congratulating the Government on their statement. It goes part of the way to making up for the historical underfunding of the Welsh railways. The north Wales coast line and the line west of Swansea are vital links between the mainland and Ireland, which is a major trading partner of the Welsh economy and the wider UK economy. What discussions are happening between the Department, the Welsh Government and European institutions about using Wales’s share of HS2—
I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. It is a relevant question. The Welsh Government have not raised that issue with me directly, but it is something that I am interesting in considering. Perhaps he will forgive me if I reflect and get back to him as my thinking on HS2 develops.
It is totally absurd. Of the £9.4 billion of investment, up to half could benefit business directly. It will be massively important for local economies and for jobs and growth. Its effect will go well beyond the rail industry, for example by connecting up airports and ports. My hon. Friend’s local airport at Gatwick is receiving investment for its station. All those things are important in providing our country with a joined-up transport system that supports efficient end-to-end journeys for passengers and businesses.
The Secretary of State will know that there has been a huge cross-party campaign for electrification of the midland main line, so I am delighted to welcome her announcement, including what she said about the upgrade of the Leicester junction. She will know that commuters want that work to start as quickly as possible, so will she undertake that it will start closer to 2014 than 2019?
It depends on the industry’s response to the outputs that we have said today we want to achieve. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not generally let the grass grow under my feet. I like to get on with things and get them sorted out, so we will get on with all these projects as fast as we can.
What a tremendous statement! Lighter electric trains accelerate and decelerate faster, allowing for intermediary stops serving communities such as Corsham, in my constituency, as long as we are successful in winning a new station in the competition that the Secretary of State has announced today. Will any of that multi-million-pound fund be available before control period 5?
I am looking at how the competition and the bids will work, and I believe we can get a lot of learnings from how individual communities and local authorities respond. We can see how the local authority major roads programme worked—it was an effective process in getting local authorities to work with local enterprise partnerships and say what their road network needed. I am interested to see how this pot of money can do the same thing for new stations in communities such as my hon. Friend’s. Once we have got those learnings, there is no reason why we cannot start to pull forward that investment.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but may I ask her for further clarification of her earlier answers about track improvements? In particular, will the programme include track improvements at all three bottlenecks on the midland main line—Derby, Leicester and Market Harborough —without which we will not get the targeted improvements in journey times?
I will need to confirm that specific point, but I am certainly aware that track improvements will happen at Leicester. I believe that they will also happen at Derby, but I will need to find out about Market Harborough and write to the hon. Gentleman.
Rail passengers in Wellingborough will warmly welcome the statement, but does the Secretary of State share my concern that
the announcement was leaked to the press in advance of being given to Parliament? Would she express her surprise that the Deputy Prime Minister was on television promoting the statement, apparently in breach of the ministerial code?
I was concerned. This is obviously an important announcement, and I can understand why people would be keen to make it. I e-mailed and wrote to all Departments to emphasise to them when the announcement was embargoed until, so of course it was disappointing to see some of it leak out earlier.
I thank the Secretary of State for her close working with the Welsh Government and for listening to the lobbying from south-west Wales, ably led by my hon. Friend Geraint Davies. I also thank her for the comments that she has just made about looking further west. Will she give special consideration to starting the project to Swansea in time for the Dylan Thomas centenary year in 2014?
I believe that may be something of a stretch, but we will wait to see what the industry says about how quickly it can deliver the plan and develop the proposals. There is a lot of work to be done, but the most important thing is that we have signalled that it is going ahead. I appreciate the support of the hon. Lady and her colleagues, and I have to say that I have had a huge amount of lobbying by Government MPs from Wales as well. Together, they have made a real difference by getting across the case for investment.
I very much welcome the fully funded northern hub project, the investment in Huddersfield railway station and the new station fund, which my community of Milnsbridge may go for. Will the Secretary of State confirm the importance of connectivity and local stopping services, so that people in Slaithwaite, Marsden, Lockwood, Honley and Brockholes get full benefit from this transformational announcement?
We want many communities to benefit from the announcement, and frankly, the more people we can get on the railways, the more successful they will be. That means connecting as many communities as possible, which is the approach that I am taking to High Speed 2 and to the current network. That is one reason why, for the first time, I have set aside some money for new stations.
As the Member representing St Pancras, may I ask the Secretary of State whether she is really satisfied that it will be 2019 before the first electric train arrives from Sheffield at that magnificent station, which was so magnificently refurbished under the Labour Government to provide a connection for the channel tunnel link and fast trains to the Olympic games?
The right hon. Gentleman looks forward, as I do, to a time when trains that arrive at St Pancras are not dirty diesel trains but clean electric
ones. I think that that will have a positive impact on the environment in that station. St Pancras station is an amazing building. It is impossible to walk in without gasping at the wonderful architecture, and those of us who want more members of the next generation go into design, technology and engineering should take them to St Pancras, which will get them fired up.
We have only five more minutes—let us try to get through as many questions as possible.
I thank my right hon. Friend and all the Ministers and Parliamentary Private Secretaries who have worked hard with all the local MPs to make sure that this new electrical spine is achieved. The point is we have a spine, and we waited 13 years for someone else to find one.
I do not think I could put it better myself. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
In 2014, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Dylan Thomas’s birth. May I thank the Secretary of State for ensuring that in that year we can herald a new beginning to electrification to Swansea bay city region, encouraging inward investment and growth? Will she assure me that a door will be opened for more investment in transport infrastructure, including ports and roads?
I understand how important this investment is. I think that it was Admiral insurance that wrote to me saying what a difference the investment could make to jobs in the area. It was precisely those sorts of representations I reflected on, which is why I know that the investment will make a huge difference.
I warmly welcome the statement. What will the Transport Secretary do to dispel the impression that the south-west is the poor country cousin of the railway network, which will of course be underscored by HS2 and the north-south electric spine? She will want to address particularly the plight of residents west of Salisbury.
I am always keen to look particularly at what we can do to improve transport infrastructure in the south-west. There is an issue of resilience for the railway and road network, but my hon. Friend will remember that we announced the electrification of the Great Western railway line, and we have announced an intercity express programme that will result in more capacity on that line and the potential for more frequent services. Perhaps less close to him, in Bristol, we have announced today substantial investment in Bristol Temple Meads station. All those things will begin to strengthen the south-west transport system, but I would like to see what we can do to go further and do better.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Transport kindly met members of the Selby and district rail users group and me to discuss the electrification of the line from Micklefield to Selby. They will be delighted
to hear that the scheme will go ahead. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that historic investment will contribute to the control of fare rises and will reduce overcrowding for my constituents in Selby?
The Micklefield to Selby electrification opens up a second route to the north of Leeds, as my hon. Friend will be aware. It also means that potentially we can have three trains an hour serving London. He is right: electrification means that we have a lower-cost railway, which is the key to getting off the hook of having to pass on above-inflation rail-fare rises to passengers every year.
I welcome the investment in line speed and capacity improvement on the links between Manchester and Sheffield. The Hope Valley line through my constituency provides a vital link for freight and passengers. Does my right hon. Friend agree that investment in that line will benefit not only the two great cities but many of my High Peak constituents?
Yes it will. The more freight we can get off the road, the better. The more options we can give people to get off the road, the better.
I congratulate the Secretary of State and her team on this excellent announcement. In 13 years, the previous Government managed to electrify nine miles—a distance that a garden snail could cover in 15 days. They also allowed rail fares to go up by 66%. Does the Secretary of State agree that rail fares are too high, and that it is time to end above-inflation rail fare increases?
I have to say that I did not know that snails were that fast, but I believe we need to try to get off this hook of above-inflation rail fare rises every year, which is one reason why we are looking at the efficiency savings programme that Roy McNulty first outlined. Today’s investment in electrification will be a key part of that as well.
In my right hon. Friend’s time as Secretary of State, a new Victorian era of rail investment is not only being promised but delivered. Does she agree that removing some of the
bottlenecks is key to capacity? Will she use some of the £700 million that is available so that users of the Wimbledon loop will gain the full benefits of Thameslink?
I am sure that we will look closely at the case my hon. Friend has made. I know he has worked very hard, alongside other local MPs, to see local railway services improved. Wimbledon itself is a key railway hub for his local area. It plays a really important role, and I am keen to see what we can do to improve it.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on this announcement, and particularly the investment in the Portsmouth to London line and longer rail franchise agreements. If she will forgive my greed, will she consider writing into those new agreements basic passenger comfort standards, such as seat design and toilet provision, so we can ensure the quality and accessibility of these services?
I have met my hon. Friend to discuss some of her concerns about the rolling stock used by some of her constituents on local lines. I take those points very seriously. That is why one of the pots of money we have set aside is to improve the passenger experience. It may seem like a small thing to have adequate toilet provision on trains, but for many people, particularly for mothers with kids, it is really important. My hon. Friend is therefore right to raise this point.
Businesses and residents in Swindon will warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to a new rail western access to Heathrow. Connectivity is the key. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that with the extension of electrification through to south Wales and Swansea, we will see electric-only rolling stock on the cross-country Great Western line?
We will move to electrify the rolling stock, too. It is one way of ensuring that we keep operating costs down. My hon. Friend’s constituents could see a 30-minute reduction in their journey time to Heathrow. That will benefit not just his area but the whole of the south-west.
Unfortunately, I am going to have to cut off debate on the statement now.