Rail Services (Erewash)
Theresa Villiers (Minister of State (Rail and Aviation), Transport; Chipping Barnet, Conservative)
I am not aware of any intended subtractions of services. As my hon. Friend says, we are discussing today whether it is realistic and practical to add a service and a station at Ilkeston, but he makes a good point.
The third of the questions that I posed at the start of my speech was whether commercial incentives alone would motivate train operators to call at a new station at Ilkeston. That is another important issue that we need to address. Before going ahead, the Department would expect the county council to confirm with Northern Rail whether it would be prepared to stop at a new station. However, its franchise is coming to an end relatively shortly, and it is not easy to predict what approach a future franchisee might take. Although the studies undertaken for the county council indicate that revenue from the station calls would outweigh the costs of its operation, train operators might take a different view of the impact of journey-time changes on longer distance passenger numbers, and hence on ticket revenues.
The Department of Transport is certainly prepared to consider whether it would be justifiable and appropriate to include obligations in relation to the new station in the future franchise contract. As the House will be aware, the Government have been assessing how to reform the franchising process, and we made a further announcement on that today. We want to see a move away from the specification of highly detailed inputs that leave little flexibility for train operators to innovate and respond to the changing needs of passengers. That said, franchise contracts under the new system will continue to contain obligations on service levels. We could consider whether that should include obligations in relation to a new station at Ilkeston.
The issues raised by the third question that I posed look as if they also could be resolvable. However, I would emphasise the word "resolvable", not "resolved". It is important to ensure that the commercial case for the station is rigorously assessed, so that the Department, the county council and train operators can be as confident as we can that the new services would be commercially viable. That is pivotal. Without that confidence, it is difficult to see how the project can get off the ground.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash for the opportunity to give an indication of the Government's approach. In conclusion, it is clear that the coalition will face difficult decisions if we are to address the crisis in the public finances that we have inherited and get our economy back on track.