Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for allowing time for this debate. The issue of the upgrade and electrification of the midland main line has rumbled on for a number of years, and I am delighted to have an opportunity to raise it with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State in a little more detail than is usually possible in departmental questions. The subject is particularly topical, given that the Prime Minister travelled on an East Midlands train via the midland main line up to the east midlands today.
As can be seen from the number of MPs from both sides of the House who are still here at this late hour, although it is perhaps not as late as some of us had anticipated, and as is demonstrated by those such as my hon. Friend Pauline Latham who cannot be here tonight but who have sent messages of support, this subject is of interest to MPs across the midlands. The Minister will be aware of the letter from Members representing 20 seats in the midlands that I recently sent her, outlining our support for the upgrade and electrification of the midland main line. I am sure that I speak for a number of hon. Members when I say that we all know this train line extremely well.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady has secured this debate, as many hon. Members feel strongly about this subject. Does she agree that this is about not only cutting journey times, but saving money in the running of the railway each year? I believe that the relevant figure is about £60 million.
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his intervention. He rightly says that there are many benefits to this—I shall set out five key ones later in my speech—and that cutting the running costs of the railway on an annual basis is one of the main benefits that the upgrade and electrification would bring.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. This issue is not just about saving money, however, but about unfairness. More than £12 billion is being invested in the railways and only £200 million in the midland main line. Is that one of her findings?
It is indeed. I am not sure how long the hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House—I suspect that he has been a Member longer than I have—but he is absolutely right. The midlands are sometimes too good at standing back and letting other regions get investment, which is why it is time for the midland main line to get the investment it so badly needs.
I know that the debate is also being watched outside the House by a good number of supporters of the upgrade works and electrification. I am grateful to all those who have been so generous with their thoughts and suggestions in helping me to prepare for the debate.
In particular, I want to thank East Midlands Councils, the Association of Train Operating Companies, Network Rail, the CBI in the east midlands, LANRAC—the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire rail action committee—the Derby and Derbyshire Rail Forum and the Rail Freight Group. Indeed, as Jim Bamford of Nottinghamshire county council has said to me:
“I think it is a real strength of the campaign that all the key players—Network Rail, East Midland Trains, and a wide range of local stakeholders—have such a united view on the need for a complementary package of upgrade works followed by electrification”.
Although I realise that my right hon. Friend the Minister is unable to announce tonight that the midland main line is to receive the investment we all hope for, I hope that she will at least be left in no doubt about the strength of support both inside and outside the Chamber for the upgrade and electrification works.
In the time available, I thought it would be most helpful if I set out briefly what we as midlands MPs are all looking for and why.
I take the hon. Lady’s point. She is absolutely right and I stand corrected.
The initial industry plan for England and Wales sets out how the rail industry can deliver a more efficient and better value railway and how our railways can play a key role in driving sustainable economic growth. The plan examines the key choices and options facing funders in specifying the future outputs of the railway and the level of funding required. Those choices will inform the development of the Government’s high-level output specification and statement of funds available for control period 5, which runs from 2014 to 2019. The spending statement is due to published in July 2012.
The initial industry plan identifies providing additional capacity on long distance services operating on the midland main line as a key investment choice. The electrification network route utilisation strategy identified the midland main line as a route for which there was likely to be a strong business case for extending the electrification of the line to the north as far as Sheffield.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate and on taking great care to talk about the upgrade and electrification of the line. Does she agree that there has been a problem with the debate in that it often uses the shorthand of electrification when upgrading the line is critical to reducing journey times and is also the smaller part of the cost package?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those points and he is absolutely right. That was one thing that I discovered in researching my speech. When I applied for the debate, the title covered only electrification but in the course of preparing for it I understood that the two go hand in hand. We must have the upgrade works first in order to have electrification. The work must be done that way around and I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that so clear.
As I have said, the route utilisation strategy identified the midland main line as a route for which there was likely to be a strong business case for extending the electrification of the line to the north as far as Sheffield. The decision to proceed with High Speed 2 has not affected that business case. What are we looking for, therefore? First, the upgrade works, which comprise major re-signalling schemes around Derby and Leicester, a number of line speed improvements—my right hon. Friend the Minister might be aware, as I was not, that 125-mph trains have never yet travelled at 125 mph on the bit of the midland main line that we are debating because the track was not improved at the time they were launched to allow them to do so—and longer trains. After the upgrade works, we would like to see electrification for the Bedford to Sheffield part of the line via Wellingborough, Kettering, Corby, Leicester, Derby, Nottingham and Chesterfield—as I wrote that, I thought that I was beginning to sound like one of the train announcers.
Why do I and so many others believe the midland main line’s time has come? First, there is expected to be a huge growth in passenger demand on the midland main line that has been identified in the east midlands route utilisation strategy. I can tell the House, just from my own observations, that the line continues to get busier and busier. Already 13.2 million passengers travel on the midland main line each year. That is more than double the number who travelled on the line at the time of privatisation and the number keeps growing. Network Rail estimates that by 2020 the numbers travelling from the east midlands to London will have increased by 27% and that the numbers travelling from Nottingham to Birmingham will have increased by 42%.
Secondly, these upgrade and electrification works are an essential component of establishing an integrated long distance rail network alongside High Speed 2. Those banging the drum for the midland main line have waited while the Government have assessed High Speed 2. Now that it is going ahead we believe the improvements to the midland main line must happen too.
Thirdly, the midland main line connects four of England’s largest cities and one of the fastest-growing areas in England to London and vice versa.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing the debate and I should like to add weight to her arguments. Economically, my constituency is one of the fastest growing in the country despite the fact that not one of 2,000 railway stations is located in my constituency. My constituents already have to travel to get on to the railway line and they should not be further handicapped by journey times that are longer than they need to be. I want these improvements to the midland main line and so do my constituents.
The hon. Lady is speaking incredibly eloquently and I am happy to support the argument she is making. If the House will indulge me, may I also thank the Minister for meeting me and my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz recently? Further to the point that Andrew Bridgen made, I saw some statistics recently that suggested that the conurbations that the midland main line serves are likely to grow by about 800,000 people over the next 20 years or so. There is clearly a demand for this service and it is also clear that there will be huge economic benefits. An upgrade of the midland main line would bring huge benefits to Leicester, for example, and also, I imagine, to Loughborough.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. He is absolutely right; that is why the time for investment in the midland main line has definitely come.
Reducing journey times between our cities and London will help our businesses to access markets and improve the effectiveness of our labour markets. An independent report prepared for East Midlands Councils and the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive estimated that upgrading and electrifying the midland main line would generate £450 million-worth of wider economic benefits in terms of higher business productivity. This, of course, includes the creation of hundreds of jobs through construction activities and the refurbishment works on the trains as well as encouraging more businesses to relocate and invest around the midland main line corridor as journey times reduce. The main constraint on time taken to complete a journey is the speed limits that have to be put in place if the track does not allow trains to travel at their top speeds. We can all appreciate the benefits of saying to employees and customers that a journey from London to Leicester is only 60 minutes rather than well over an hour.
Fourthly, the Government are rightly focused on reducing costs, which ultimately helps us to tackle the deficit and the national debt. Electrification significantly reduces the costs of rolling stock, energy, track access and maintenance. As I have said, the latest estimates suggest that electrifying the line from Bedford to Sheffield would save up to £60 million every year in industry costs. That means that within 10 years of completion the electrification of the line between Bedford and Sheffield will have paid for itself and will continue to reduce the cost of rail to the taxpayer year on year.
Fifthly, as a letter from the Rail Freight Group to my right hon. Friend the Minister said,
“the East Midlands area is a growing hub for logistics activities, and there are a number of active proposals for rail linked distribution along the route...Such facilities are essential for rail freight growth, and also to economic prosperity and job creation in the region.”
The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the importance of logistics to the east midlands. Chesterfield and junction 29A—Skinner’s junction as it is known colloquially in the area—plays an important part in making sure that our road network is successful but our rail network falls behind. My constituents absolutely recognise the economic benefits of improving our logistics capacity through the electrification and upgrade of the midland main line.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He and I have often met on East Midlands Trains services so we are personal users of the midland main line and we know how important it is. He is absolutely right about freight and the importance of getting it off the road and on to rail. That is why we need to have the upgrade and electrification works. Network Rail has told me that it estimates that by 2020 freight usage on the line will have increased by 50%.
Electric trains are quieter and emit less carbon dioxide per vehicle mile. It is estimated that electrification of the route from Bedford to Sheffield would slash carbon emissions by up to 12,000 tonnes.
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Does she agree that the one disadvantage for the east midlands is that people can get to London so much faster by driving to Tamworth and taking the west coast main line, or over to Grantham or Newark to take the east coast main line? If we could get east midland main line trains up to the right speed, we could lose all those wasted car journeys too.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the case for getting people out of their cars and on to rail. It is not just about freight; passengers are incredibly important. It says something about the midlands. The time for investment has very much come. The midlands are a growing and important area of our economy and need this investment.
I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend on securing the debate. I am delighted that the Minister with us today knows so much about what is going on in Derby. This is an excellent opportunity for us again to think about investing in the area. We hope that a technology centre will come to Derby and there are other important investments, such as Bombardier, and innovative electrification arrangements for trains. They are of the moment and time is of the essence. Congratulations.
I thank my hon. Friend. On behalf of my hon. Friend and other Derbyshire MPs, may I mention today’s front page of the Derby Telegraph? I understand the Prime Minister was presented with it. The paper made it very clear that people in Derby and Derbyshire, led by their Members of Parliament, are very much behind electrification. I congratulate all the campaigners who have so ably supported the debate this evening.
In conclusion, let me draw all the factors together. The Government are rightly focused on doing everything we can to grow our economy. Successful businesses in the midlands are critical to ensuring our nation’s economic growth. The Government have also rightly signalled their commitment to investing in our national infrastructure. Here is a project of enhancements, upgrade works and electrification that will cost a significant amount, but which will cut the cost of running the railway by up to £60 million each year. The project will be good for businesses and our regional economies in so many different ways, and the midlands has waited patiently for it for a very long time. We have the slowest speeds to and from London of any inter-city route. Nottingham and Sheffield are the last two of the eight core cities with no electrified line in place or promised.
Transport Ministers, including my right hon. Friend, have clearly stated the Government’s commitment to electrification. I ask that she now gives the midland main line top priority as the Government decide on the spending priorities for control period 5. My constituents and I, Members on both sides of the House and many people in the midlands and the north await the July announcement with great interest.
Like others, I congratulate my hon. Friend Nicky Morgan on securing the debate and on an excellent speech. I welcome the strong interest shown in the debate by the presence of so many hon. Members from up and down the length of the route.
My hon. Friend put the case for electrification of the midland main line with cogency and clarity and I pay tribute to the campaign that she, so many of the groups she mentioned and so many of the Members in the Chamber have been leading on that important issue. I welcome the interest of the Derby Telegraph, a paper with which I am very familiar—for all sorts of reasons. I have received many representations from Members who are attending the debate and from other groups and colleagues. I particularly mention the representations received by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend Mr McLoughlin.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are seeing a complete outbreak of cross-party support for the project? She identifies Members representing cities and towns—for example, Beeston and Attenborough in my constituency—all of which will benefit if the scheme goes ahead. I do not know whether she has seen a paper written by Jim Bamford from Nottinghamshire county council—my hon. Friend Nicky Morgan referred to him. He sets out the excellent economic case for electrification and the improvement of the line not just for the good people of greater Nottingham but for those throughout the whole of the east midlands right up to south Yorkshire.
My hon. Friend is entirely correct. There is significant cross-party support, and there is a range of interesting research and evidence on the potential benefits of electrification of the midland main line, much of which I have seen directly. As I think Jonathan Ashworth mentioned, in February, I met MPs to discuss the proposals, along with the deputy mayor of Leicester. This debate provides a welcome opportunity for the House to reflect on an important subject for the regions concerned.
I, too, congratulate Nicky Morgan on securing the debate. I think that the case for the electrification and upgrade of the midland main line is unanswerable, and I hope that we will hear some reassuring words from the Minister this evening. Does she agree that it is absolutely essential that the Government do everything in their power to ensure that the trains that run on the midland main line—and indeed on every railway line in the country—are, wherever possible, built in British factories, and preferably in the Derby factory of Bombardier?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I have a very high regard for the Bombardier operation in Derby, and he will appreciate that we are bound by European rules on the procurement of rolling stock.
The Government appreciate the economic benefits that investment in transport can bring in general. That is why we have given priority to investment in our rail network, even when budgets are limited by the pressing need to deal with the deficit. As well as going ahead with high-speed rail, we have embarked on a major programme of rail improvements on a scale larger than anything attempted since the Victorian era. That programme plays a significant role in two of our important priorities: promoting economic growth and cutting carbon. It is also vital that we get the cost of running the railways down, so that we can respond to concerns about fares.
Where there is a strong business case, and subject to affordability, the Government support the progressive electrification of the rail network as a way to reduce the cost of running the railways, boost the economy, increase passenger comfort, and reduce carbon. As we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough, electric trains cost less in fuel and maintenance than their diesel equivalents; they are quieter; they are lighter, which saves on wear and tear to the track; and they emit less carbon dioxide. That is why the Government have already committed to an extensive programme of rail electrification, which includes the Great Western main line from London to Oxford, Newbury, Bristol and Cardiff, and lines in the north-west, including from Liverpool to Manchester and from Blackpool to Manchester. Indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker, your constituency is set to benefit from the changes. Subject to confirmation of the business case, the line from Manchester across the Pennines to Leeds and York is also due to be electrified.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough and others have rightly emphasised, the midland main line plays a major role in supporting the economies of the east midlands and south Yorkshire. Most inter-city services on the line are provided by modern, high-performance, diesel Meridian trains. The line also benefits from the recent investment in new stations at Corby and East Midlands Parkway, and from the £800 million transformation of St Pancras. The Government have committed to further improvements by 2014. Network Rail is due to complete a £69 million investment to deliver an eight-minute improvement in journey times for passengers between London and Sheffield. In the longer term, the economies of the east midlands and south Yorkshire will benefit from the second phase of High Speed 2, with journey times slashed and rail capacity dramatically increased.
We recognise that there is a good case, on economic and financial grounds, for further investment in the midland main line over and above what we are already committed to. The scale of what can be delivered depends on what is affordable, and on a careful and fair assessment of competing priorities elsewhere on the rail network.
The report commissioned by East Midlands Councils and South Yorkshire passenger transport executive entitled “The Case for Upgrading and Electrifying the Midland Main Line” is very impressive. It highlights significant potential economic, environmental and financial benefits from electrification and the other upgrades to which my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough referred.
The Government recognise that the electrification of the midland main line could help spread the benefits of HS2, because it would enable through-running of services between the new high-speed network and the midland main line. This is something that we will consider as we prepare our response to the advice of HS2 Ltd on phase 2 of the project to complete the Y network to Manchester and Leeds. This potential benefit and the others mentioned today, including the important points made by my hon. Friend about freight and the potential benefits to freight from an electrified midland main line, will all be taken into account in our decisions on the forthcoming HLOS statement.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough set out, electrification of the midland main line and various other upgrades to the line are included in Network Rail’s initial industry plan for possible delivery in the period between 2014 and 2019. This document and the priorities that it sets out will play an important role in forthcoming decisions on which projects can be funded in the CP5 rail period to 2019. I welcome the decision by the rail industry to prioritise electrification of the midland main line in the IIP. The Government are currently considering how much funding will be available in total for rail investment in the five-year period up to 2019 and how it should be allocated. We will announce our decisions by July.
Although the business case for midland main line electrification does indeed look impressive, as I have acknowledged at the Dispatch Box before now, there can be no doubt that the project would be complex and challenging, and it would be expensive to deliver. Network Rail has estimated the capital cost of electrification alone to be just over £530 million, not including the other improvements mentioned in the debate. Major engineering work would be required. Just to make room for the overhead wires, more than 50 bridges would have to be rebuilt.
So, alongside midland main line electrification and upgrades, we will need to assess the case for improvements on other routes to determine which projects are given priority. The initial industry plan contains proposals for rail improvements likely to cost about £4.5 billion in total during the CP5 control period. This is on top of £5 billion for projects already committed for the period, so we will need to strike a balance and make choices. Of course we want to fund projects which promote economic growth and improve efficiency, as we believe electrification of the midland main line would do. We also need to ensure that the Government’s finances are not overstretched during difficult times.
I refer again to the point that I raised earlier—£12.2 billion was spent on the networks, but only £200 million of it went in the east midlands. That is not fair. We demand and we need the extra investment.
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are committed to continuing investment in our rail network. We are committed to a major programme of electrification. The previous Government managed only about 15 or 20 miles of electrification in 20 years, so we are making progress on that. Although I cannot prejudge the outcome of the deliberations, I can assure my hon. Friend, Sir Alan Meale and everyone else attending the debate this evening that we recognise the benefits that electrifying and upgrading the midland main line would bring. We are aware of the strength of the business case. We are very much aware of the strength of the support for this important upgrade to the rail network. That is why we are working closely with Network Rail to ensure that we have the most up-to-date information to inform our decisions on the midland main line project and whether we can include it in the HLOS programme for CP5.
It is important to take into account the potential environmental benefits of any project in all areas of government, and I acknowledge that electrification of the midland main line would have a positive impact in reducing carbon emissions. We will take that into account.
The hard work of my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough, many of the other MPs who are here, the local authorities, the stakeholders and the local newspapers on this issue has given momentum to the campaign to electrify and upgrade the midland main line. I congratulate them all on that. We will continue to listen with care to the views of all who promote this project when we make decisions on which rail projects can be prioritised and afforded in the next railway control period. This debate has provided more useful and valuable input into that decision-making process. I am grateful to all Members who have contributed. I will take very seriously the representations made in this debate and the numerous representations that I and the Department have received on the benefits to be gained environmentally and economically from electrifying and upgrading the midland main line.
Question put and agreed to.